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'Spanish Stonehenge' dating back to 5,000 BCE has emerged from a drought-hit dam

The dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge, is seen due to the receding waters of the Valdecanas reservoir in the outskirts of El Gordo, Spain.
The dolmen of Guadalperal, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge, is seen due to the receding waters of the Valdecanas reservoir in the outskirts of El Gordo, Spain.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Susana Vera
By Angela Symons  with Reuters

A brutal summer has caused havoc for many in rural Spain. One unexpected side-effect of the country's worst drought in decades has delighted archaeologists - the emergence of a prehistoric stone circle in a dam whose waterline has receded.

Officially known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal but dubbed the Spanish Stonehenge, the circle of dozens of megalithic stones is believed to date back to 5,000 BCE.

Where is the 'Spanish Stonehenge' located?

It currently sits fully exposed in one corner of the Valdecanas reservoir, in the central province of Caceres, where authorities say the water level has dropped to 28 per cent of capacity.

"It's a surprise, it's a rare opportunity to be able to access it," says archaeologist Enrique Cedillo from Madrid's Complutense University, one of the experts racing to study the circle before it gets submerged again.

It was discovered by German archaeologist Hugo Obermaier in 1926, but the area was flooded in 1963 in a rural development project under Francisco Franco's dictatorship.

Since then it has only become fully visible four times.

REUTERS/Susana Vera
Drought has led to the the emergence of a prehistoric stone circle in a Spanish dam.REUTERS/Susana Vera

What's the history of the Spanish Stonehenge?

Dolmens are vertically arranged stones usually supporting a flat boulder. Although there are many scattered across Western Europe, little is known about who erected them. 

Human remains found in or near many have led to an often-cited theory that they are tombs.

Local historical and tourism associations have advocated moving the Guadalperal stones to a museum or elsewhere on dry land.

The emergence of the stones is good for tourism, but bad for farming

Their presence is also good news for Ruben Argentas, who owns a small boat tour business. "The dolmen emerges and the dolmen tourism begins," he says after a busy day spent shuttling tourists to the site and back.

REUTERS/Susana Vera
The circle of dozens of megalithic stones is believed to date back to 5000 BC.REUTERS/Susana Vera

But there is no silver lining for local farmers.

"There hasn't been enough rain since the spring...There is no water for the livestock and we have to transport it in," says Jose Manuel Comendador. Another, Rufino Guinea, says his sweet pepper crop has been ravaged.

Climate change has left the Iberian peninsula at its driest in 1,200 years, and winter rains are expected to diminish further, a study published by the Nature Geoscience journal shows.