The cave of Biniadris (Menorca, Spain) and the worked osseous assemblages from the Bronze Age funerary record in the Balearic Islands
Hundreds of caves feature in the natural landscape of the island of Menorca (Spain). Of special note are the caves that witnesses social and symbolic rituals within their walls around 3400 years ago. An extraordinary example is the funerary landscape of Calescoves, located within the municipality of Alaior. Here, several excavations and research work have been carried out since the decade of 1960s. Around one hundred of cavities have been discovered, including the cave of Biniadrís, located on the side of a gorge around 2km far from the coastline. Biniadrís, together with the caves of Mussol, Cárritx and Pas, is distinguished for the impressive conservation and very particular funerary rituals discovered within them. Based on the material culture, specially focusing on the pottery, and without available radiocarbon dates, it seems that the use of the Biniadrís cave as an important social and ritual place coincides with the Naviform Period in the island of Menorca (1740-1400 BC). At this time, a few small natural cavities where used as burial places since the end of the second millennium BC.
The Biniadrís cave is located on the eastern edge of the ravine with the same name, which leads into the archaeological area of Calescoves, in the central part of the island. Biniadrís is a natural cave which has been scarcely modified by human activity and located 10 meters from the ground on brow of an overhanging cliff. Regarding the entrance to the cave, the first thing that strikes the observer is an impressive cyclopean stone gate made from large stone slabs reminiscent the entrance to some of the megaliths that we can still be seen today in the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere in Europe as well.
Based on the available data, it is presently thought that some inner areas might have been anthropically modified because the animal bone remains, wood fragments, tools and ornaments are mixed with a large number of disarticulated human bones, that nevertheless seem to display a certain sort of order within the apparent chaos.
The current excavated area is not more than 10% of the total cave. Nevertheless, the find material unearthed inside the cave displays a great amount and variety of material culture, including a significant number of objects made from hard osseous materials.
A total amount of 54 objects made from osseous raw material have been recovered during four archaeological seasons (from 2014 to 2017). Regarding the typology, the assemblage has been organized in three different groups: pointed tools, round objects (lids) and ornaments, being this last one the most abundant featured by V-perforated buttons. Based on the archeozoological analysis of the worked osseous material (54 items), the study of the raw material revealed a dominant use of bone (74%), followed by a less important exploitation of tooth (26%).
Focusing on the worked bone assemblage, it is worth mentioning that most of the objects seem to have been used before becoming part of the funerary goods, based on the analysis of the object surfaces. It can be seen how some osseous raw materials played an important role in the manufacture of very particular objects. On the one hand, the V-perforated buttons assemblage display worn surfaces as a result of being in use for a long time before being removed from the world of the living as funerary goods. Thus, these buttons may have been considered valuable objects for their owners, so that they were buried with them.
On the other hand, the bone lids were carefully manufactured for a particular use within the funerary ritual, covering the cylindrical containers where the ancestor’s hair was kept. In this case, seem to have been specifically designed and worked as funerary goods. The worn edges seem to be a result of the container lids having opened and closed many times over a long period. These cylindrical containers may have become some sort of precious relic.
Compared to other Bronze Age funerary caves in Menorca, such as Cárritx or Mussol, the worked bone assemblage displays similar features regarding raw material and technical aspects, as well as the typology of the objects unearthed on these sites, being both the triangular V-perforated buttons and the bone lids the most abundant artifacts connected to these particular funerary rituals.