Giants of Mont'e Prama
Giganti di Mont'e Prama (Italian)|
Zigantes de Mont'e Prama (Sardinian)
Giant head from Mont'e Prama
Shown within Italy
|Location||Cabras, Province of Oristano, Italy|
|Region||Sinis peninsula, Sardinia|
|Coordinates||Coordinates: 39°57′57″N 8°26′54″E / 39.965778°N 8.448278°E|
|Part of||Heroon, Giants' grave, Necropolis (debated)|
|Area||≈ 75000 m2|
|Height||2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in)|
|Founded||Between the 11th and the 8th century BC (debated)|
|Abandoned||Late 4th century BC – first decades of the 3rd century BC|
|Periods||Iron Age I|
|Associated with||Nuragic aristocrats|
|Events||Sardo–punic wars (debated)|
1974: G. Atzori;|
1975: A. Bedini;
1977: G. Lilliu, G. Tore, E. Atzeni;
1977: G. Pau, M. Ferrarese Ceruti - C. Tronchetti
|Condition||Sculptures restored at the Centro di restauro e conservazione dei beni culturali of Li Punti (Sassari) — Necropolis not yet fully excavated|
The Giants of Mont'e Prama are ancient stone sculptures created by the Nuragic civilization of Sardinia, Italy. Fragmented into numerous pieces, they were found by accident in March 1974, in farmland near Mont'e Prama, in the comune of Cabras, province of Oristano, in central-western Sardinia. The statues are carved in local sandstone and their height varies between 2 and 2.5 meters.
After four excavation campaigns carried out between 1975 and 1979, the roughly five thousand pieces recovered – including fifteen heads and twenty two torsos – were stored for thirty years in the repositories of the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, while a few of the most important pieces were exhibited in the museum itself. Along with the statues, other sculptures recovered at the site include large models of nuraghe buildings and several baetylus sacred stones of the "oragiana" type, used by Nuragic Sardinians in the making of "giants' graves".
After the funds allocation of 2005 by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the Sardinia Region, restoration is being carried out since 2007 until present (As of 2012) at the Centro di restauro e conservazione dei beni culturali of "Li Punti" (Sassari), coordinated by the Soprintendenza of cultural heritage for Sassari and Nuoro, together with the Soprintendenza of Cagliari and Oristano. At this location, twenty five statues, consisting of warriors, archers, boxers and nuraghe models, have been exhibited to the public at special events since 2009. The exhibition has become permanently accessible to the public since November 2011.
According to the most recent estimates, the fragments came from a total of forty four statues. Those already restored and assembled are twenty five, in addition to thirteen nuraghe models, while another three statues and three nuraghe models have been identified from fragments that cannot currently be re-assembled.
Depending on the different hypotheses, the dating of the Kolossoi – the name that archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu gave to the statues – varies between the 11th and the 8th century BC. If this is further confirmed by archaeologists, they would be the most ancient anthropomorphic sculptures of the Mediterranean area, after the Egyptian statues, preceding the kouroi of ancient Greece.
The scholar David Ridgway on this unexpected archaeological discovery wrote:
... during the period under review (1974–1979), the Nuragic scene has been enlivened by one of the most remarkable discoveries made anywhere on Italian soil in the present century (20th century)...
while the archaeologist Miriam Scharf Balmuth said:
...a stunning archaeological development, perhaps the most extraordinary find of the century in the realm of art history ...
History of Prenuragic statuary
The first attestations of sculpture in Sardinia are much more ancient than the statues of Mont'e Prama. The most remote example is the so-called Venus of Macomer, in non finito technique, dated to 3750-3300 BC by the archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, whereas for the archaeologist Enrico Atzeni the statuette should date back to Early Neolithic (6000-4000 BC). More recent studies have stressed the similarities to the Venus figurines, already noticed by Giovanni Lilliu, and hypothesized a retro-dating to Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic Age.
Statuettes later than this one – but still pertaining to the Mother Goddess iconography – are many volumetric figurines produced by the Ozieri culture, among which is the idol of Perfugas, representing a goddess suckling her child. The same symbolism was later used by the Nuragic civilization with the so-called "Nuragic pietà".
After the three-dimensional figurines of the Goddess – but still belonging to the Neolithic Age – are the idols in flat geometric style, that could represent the Goddess in her chthonic aspect, in that all examples of this type of idol have been found inside graves.
Investigations carried out after the fortuitous discovery of a prehistoric altar at Monte d'Accoddi (Sassari), have revealed that – alongside the production of geometric figurines – the great statuary was already present at that time in Sardinia, given that at the "temple of Accoddi" several stelae and menhirs were recovered. Beside the ramp leading to the top of the main building, excavations revealed the presence of a great menhir, with several others positioned around it. A sculpted face, engraved with spiraliform patterns and probably belonging to a statue-stele, has been assigned to the earliest phase of the site – called the "red-temple". A large granite stele with a female figure in relief, has been attributed to the second phase – called the "great-temple".
Still in the time-frame of the Prenuragic age, but in this case during the Eneolithic period, there is a remarkable production of "Laconi-type" statue-menhirs or statue-stelae, assigned to the Abealzu-Filigosa culture and characterized by a uniform tripartite scheme encompassing, from top to bottom: a stylized T-shaped human face; the depiction of the enigmatic "capovolto" (the capsized) in the kind of trident capovolto; and a double-headed dagger in relief.
After the spreading of Bonnanaro culture in the Island, the tradition of the statue-stelae seems to die out, while it continues until 1200 BC with the Nuragic-related Torrean civilization facies of Corsica, featuring warriors represented in the Filitosa sculptures.
From aniconic baetyls to Nuragic statuary
During the Early Bronze Age the "epicampaniform style", a late expression of the Bell-Beaker culture, became spread both in Sardinia and Corsica. From this cultural period the Nuragic civilization would arise, paralleling similar architectural developments in southern Corsica, in such a way that the Gallura Nuragic facies shows a synchronic evolution with the Nuragic torrean civilization.
However, while common architectonic traditions of Central-Western Mediterranean evidence the close relationships between islands, it is exactly the sculpture tradition that begins to diversify. In fact, while Early Bronze Age Sardinia abandoned the traditions of Eneolithic statue-stelae, in Corsica the production of menhirs continued without interruption, eventually originating the Torrean statue-stelae during the Middle and Late Bronze Age.
An intermediate stage of this process could be represented by the appearance of hammered relief sculptures during the Middle Bronze Age – in both Sardinia and Corsica: in the former country, baetyls were engraved with male or female sexual characters in relief, while in the latter – perhaps due to the greater presence of metal implements – relief sculpture was applied for the first time to menhirs. In both islands, anthropomorphic statuary in the strict sense of the word would not exist between 1600 and 1250 BC, but sexual characters and weapons were represented in Sardinia and Corsica respectively. In a successive evolution stage, the relief technique was employed in Sardinia – for the first time after Eneolithic sculptures – to represent a human face, as shown in the famous baetyl of "San Pietro di Golgo" (Baunei).
There is no longer any dispute about the authenticity and Nuragic manufacture of the three statue-baetyls discovered in northern Sardinia, a region where a Corsican population of Nuragic culture was probably settled. At first the three statues were considered to be Punic or Roman artefacts, but these sculptures evidently portray warriors with an envelope-shaped, crested and horned nuragic helmet – as also suggested by the crest and by the circular cavities that probably held the horns (these latter still present in the statue-baetyl from Bulzi, Sassari).
According to the archaeologist Fulvia Lo Schiavo, the sculptures of northern Sardinia testify the existence of a Nuragic proto-statuary, an intermediate step of an evolutionary process that from the "eyed baetyls" of the "Oragiana type", would eventually lead to the anthropomorphic statues of Mont'e Prama. This hypothesis agrees with an earlier idea carried out by Giovanni Lilliu, following the examination of the "baetylus of Baunei", where the famous archaeologist saw the abandonment of the ancient aniconic ideology and a revival of the human form representation:
This process is somehow revealed by the transition from a representation of the human via sketched face or body features (like in the cone-shaped baetylus of "Tamuli" and "San Costantino di Sedilo", and in the truncated conical baetylus of "Nurachi", "Solene", "Oragiana"), to a full and pronounced human head representation in the "baetylus of Baunei". This leads to suppose that the "baetylus of Baunei" is the arrival point of an ideological and artistic evolution, in a pathway ascending from symbolism to anthropomorphism, due to various factors inside and outside Sardinia.
This evolution suggests that besides the commissioners, also the sculptors of the statues of Mont'e Parma could have been Nuragic. In fact, within the Nuragic civilization craftsmen able to perform perfect stonework were certainly at hand, as demonstrated by the refined sacred wells and giant's graves built in the isodomic technique. The ability in handling stones and the spread of sculpture in the round throughout Nuragic Sardinia, is also attested by the nuraghe models mentioned above and by sculpted protomes found in several sacred wells.
The majority of the sculptures were thrown in pieces upon the necropolis found at Mont'e Prama, a low hill 50 m AMSL and strategically located in the very center of the Sinis peninsula. Just one other fragmented sculpture – a human head – had been found elsewhere, near the sacred well of Banatou (Narbolia, OR). This site is ca. 2 km away from the nuraghe S'Uraki, and the head was found together with various ceramics finds, either Punic and Nuragic.
Given the location of the numerous fragments at Mont'e Prama and of the unique one at Narbolia, it is assumed that the statues were originally erected near the necropolis itself or in a still unidentified place within the Sinis peninsula, a region extending north from the Gulf of Oristano, between the Sea of Sardinia and the pond of Cabras.
The Sinis peninsula was occupied as far back as the Neolithic age – as attested by the remarkable archaeological area of Cuccuru s'Arriu . This site is well known for a necropolis dating back to Middle Neolithic (3.800-3200 B.C), where in the graves, a female idol in volumetric style was normally placed. Subsequently, all the cultural shifts that took place on the Island during the millennia, are attested in the Sinis region. Among these, particularly relevant is the Bell-beaker culture, preluding the Bonnanaro culture (c. 1800 BC) that would eventually lead to the Nuragic civilization.
Due to its fortunate geographic position and the considerable number of important settlements, such as Tharros, the Sinis peninsula was a bridgehead for the routes towards the Balearic Islands and the Iberian peninsula, related from time immemorial to Sardinia. The Balearic Islands were in fact home to the Talaiotic culture, similar under many aspects to the Nuragic and Torrean civilizations. The Sinis peninsula is furthermore favoured by the proximity of Montiferru, a region that hosts an ancient volcano, site of important iron and coppers mines. The territory of Montiferru is also strictly controlled by a system of numerous nuraghes.
The letter "M". has been given several interpretation, such as "Mont'e", "Monti" "Monte", "Montiju", all still in use in Sardinian language. In the Campidanu plain even a small hill is a "mount", such as "Monti Urpinu", in Cagliari , that is only 98 meter high on sea level.
In the past such a toponym, indicating the presence of dwarf fan palms on the spot, was recorded in some written documents. The theologian and writer Salvatore Vidal, speaking of the Sinis peninsula in his Clypeus Aureus excellentiae calaritanae (1641), reports the toponym Montigu de Prama. The Franciscan friar Antonio Felice Mattei, who wrote in the 18th century a historiography of Sardinian dioceses and bishops, mentions Montigu Palma as one of the localities within the Sinis peninsula.
Archaeological context and historical problematics
The exact date of manufacturing of the statues remains uncertain. The different hypotheses, brought forward by several scholars, encompass a time period between the 10th and 8th century BC, namely between the Final Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The sculptures are in any case believed to originate within a period of cultural transformation, but profoundly rooted in the Late Bronze Age.
In this timeframe the Sinis peninsula – and the entire Gulf of Oristano as well – was an important economical and commercial area, a fact well attested by the high concentration of Nuragic monuments: at least 106 are officially recorded, comprising Giants' graves (Tumbas de sos zigantes in Sardinian), sacred wells and nuraghes. During the blooming Nuragic period, this number must have been much higher, given that the intense agricultural works have led, in the course of centuries, to the dismantling of several monuments.
Starting form 14th century BC the Mycenaeans landed in the Sinis peninsula and elsewhere in Sardinia, whereas the first presence of Philistines is dated ca. 1200 BC. However, given that Philistines made use of Mycenenan-like pottery and given the long-standing relationships between Crete and Sardinia, it cannot be ruled out that Philistines were present in Sardinia earlier than the 13th century BC.
During this period begins also the trading of oxhide ingots between Cyprus and Sardinia. This exchange of ingots lasted until the end of the Bronze Age. The Sinis peninsula itself is to be considered an important metallurgic area, given the proximity of Montiferru, controlled by numerous nuraghes.
During the Final Bronze Age the Nuragic civilization underwent fast social transformations: nuraghes were no longer built, many were no longer used or became temples; Giants’ graves were no longer constructed, even if many of them would be re-used during the subsequent centuries. The same phenomenon occurs for sacred wells and other cultic places, some were abandoned, others remained in use up to the Iron Age. There are no hints of invasions, wars among Nuragic communities or destructive fires. Therefore, these important changes are attributed to internal factors, in turn determining a gradual cultural change, and a social and territorial reorganization within the Nuragic society.
Another relevant element was the trans-marine navigation journeys that Nuragics made towards several locations in the Mediterranean. Their presence is attested at Gadir, Huelva, Camas ( El Carambolo), Balearic Islands, Etruria, Lipari Islands, Agrigento (Cannatello), Crete and el Ahwat.
These attestations – pertaining to the time period between late Bronze Age and throughout Iron Age – are constantly increasing in number, due to new findings but also to studies in progress of Nuragic pottery, formerly classified as generic barbarian ware and, as such, preserved in repositories of museums without being further analysed.
This dynamic scenario is further complicated by the age-old problem of the possible identification between Nuragic people and the Shardana, one of the Sea peoples. Textual evidence from cuneiform tablets and Egyptian reliefs from the New Kingdom, relate that Sea Peoples were the final catalyst that put the fall of Aegean cities and Levantines states in motion. The Shardana apparently took part as mercenaries in several conflicts involving Ancient Egypt and are often associated with Sardinia.
Scholars are still debating whether the Shardana were originally from Sardinia or if they went there after having been defeated by the Egyptians. Egyptologists David O'Connor and Stephen Quirke on this subject have said:
...From the similarity between the words Shardana and Sardinia scholars frequently suggest that the Shardana came from there. On the other hand, it is equally possible that this group eventually settled in Sardinia after their defeat at the hands of the Egyptians (...) In Papyrus Harris, the deceased Ramesses III declares that Shardana were brought as captivities to Egypt, that settled them in strongholds bound in my name, and that he taxed them all (...) this would seem to indicate that the Shardana had been settled somewhere (...) no further away from Caanan. This location maybe further sustained by the Onomasticon of Amenope, a composition dating to ca. 1100 BC, which lists the Shardana, among the Sea Peoples who were settled on the coast there. If is the case, then perhaps the Shardana came originally from Sardinia and were settled on the coastal Canaan. However, the Shardana are listed – in Papyrus Wilbour – as living in Middle Egypt during the time of Ramesses V, which would suggest that at least some of them were settled in Egypt.
Between the 12th and 9th century BC, Sardinia appears to be connected to Canaan, Syria and Cyprus by at least four cultural currents: the first two are the most ancient, they can be defined as Syrian and Philistine, and are exquisitely commercial in character. From the 9th century BC the third and fourth cultural currents began to appear in the West. One can be defined as "Cypriot-Phoenician", in that it was built by peoples originating from Cyprus and Phoenician cities; this movement had relationships with Sardinia but, most importantly, would lead to the founding of Carthage. The fourth current interested the Island to a largest extent, beginning from the 8th century BC, with the urbanization of important centres such as Tharros, Othoca and Neapolis.
The transformation of these coastal centres, mainly constituted of a mixed population with a large presence of Nuragic aristocracy – as demonstrated by the grave goods – gave a notable contribution to change the traits of the Island and of the Nuragic civilization, accompanying the decline of the latter until the Carthaginian invasion. However, it is certain that during the 7th century BC the Sinis peninsula and the Gulf of Oristano were still controlled by Nuragic aristocrats and that the end this supremacy coincided with the destruction of the Giants’ statues.
The fragments of the sculptures have been found on top of a necropolis situated on the slopes of Mont'e Prama, a hill towered by a complex nuraghe at its top. The necropolis is composed of wall-tombs, mostly stripped of grave goods. Those up to now investigated contained human skeletons placed in a sitting and crouching position, belonging to male and female individuals between thirteen and fifty years old. Presently (2012), the mortuary complex can be divided into two main areas: the first one, parallelepiped-shaped, was investigated by the archaeologist Alessandro Bedini in 1975; the second one is serpentine-shaped and has been excavated between 1976 and 1979, by Maria Ferrarese Ceruti and Carlo Tronchetti.
A paved road, delimited by vertical slab stones, runs parallel to the latter mortuary area. The construction of the road is supposed to be contemporary to the monumentalization of the necropolis. The Bedini excavations have unearthed an area containing thirty two slab-cist tombs, made of a stone different from the one used in the serpentine-shaped area. The cist tombs were mostly without their cover slabs, as these were wrecked during centuries of agricultural activities in the area. This so-called "Bedini’s area" appears to have undergone three phases of development:
- the first phase is represented by circular well-tombs, the most archaic ones. They are similar to those discovered in southern Sardinia at the Temple of Antas, dedicated to Sardus Pater Babai, the eponymous god of Nuragic Sardinians;
- the second phase should coincide with the cladding of the tombs with stone slabs;
- the third phase-contemporary to the necropolis excavated by the archaeologist Carlo Tronchetti – should correspond to the placing of the statues.
In the section excavated by Carlo Tronchetti, the beginning (spatial and chronological) of the necropolis is marked by a slabstone standing upright, juxtaposed with the first tomb at the Southern side. The Northern and more recent side is also delimited by a slabstone standing upright. Beside the cover slabs of the serpentine shaped layout, further small pits used for the deposition of human bones have been unearthed. Due to the presence of the "Bedini’s area", the last three tombs do not follow the natural pathway but have been built on the side of the pre-existing burials.
The necropolis has not been yet (2012) fully excavated.
Hypotheses on the necropolis appearance
Due to the incompleteness of the excavations, it is not yet possible to determine the real appearance of the necropolis and grouping of the sculptures.
Some scholars have cast doubts about the original pertinence of the latter to the necropolis, in that the only evidence in favour of this fact would be the spatial contiguity between the statues and the mortuary complex itself. This led others to hypothesize that the statues had been conceived as telamons to adorn a temple, close to the necropolis but dedicated to the Sardus Pater. According to this theory, the temple with statues would have been erected to commemorate nuragic victories against the Carthaginian invaders, during the sardo-punic wars. In this case the statues would have portrayed the retinue or the bodyguards of the god himself.
One has to notice that nearby the necropolis a rectangular structure has been erected but this building is in concrete and clearly referable to the Roman age, even if it cannot be completely ruled out – due to the lack of excavations – that underneath the Roman building there was a nuragic megaron temple. The presence of other sacral monuments in the vicinity of the necropolis is in any case suggested by the finding of typical quoins employed in the construction of sacred wells.
Other scholars dispute this theory and tend to think that statues and necropolis were part of the same complex. In this view it is incorrect to hold as a sole hint for this hypotheses the closeness of the sculpture to the mortuary complex. In tomb number six of the "Tronchetti’s area", a piece of scrap for manufacturing shields was discovered, leading to the suggestion that the statues had been sculpted on the site and expressly for the necropolis.
Given some technical specificities, both the nuraghe models and the "oragiana type" baetyls, point to the same conclusion. In this case the necropolis and the statues could be reminiscent of Giants' graves. The layout of the complex recalls in fact the plan of a Giants’ grave, and this suggestion is reinforced by the presence of baetyls, a feature typical of the ancient Bronze Age Sardinian tombs. This analogy would attest the ancient architects’ will to perpetuate a link with the funerary traditions of their ancestors.
As studies stand now, the authors do admit that even this last hypotheses is not supported by sound proofs – as far as the aspect and original composition of the statues-tombs complex is concerned. It has nevertheless been suggested that, if the hypotheses is correct, the sculptures would have been arranged at the East and West side of the serpentine-shaped necropolis, to form a sort of gigantic human exedra reminiscent of the half-circle exedra of a Giants’ grave. The boxers could have formed the most external part of this arrangement, whereas archers and warriors would have been located in the center, immediately next to the tombs. According to this hypotheses, the nuraghe models would have formed the crowning of the mound, being arranged on the cover slabs of the tombs.
History of the excavations
The first find most probably belonging to the monumental complex of Mont'e Prama was recovered in 1965. It is a fragmented head in sandstone, found at the bottom of the sacred well of Banatou (Narbolia). Originally, the fragment of Banatou was held as Punic, given the large presence of Punic artifacts and the alleged absence of Nuragic statuary. The uncovering of the statues at the necropolis of Monti Prama had to wait almost ten further years.
According to the account of the two finders, Sisinnio Poddi and Battista Meli, the finding took place by chance in March 1974, while they were preparing the sowing of two adjacent lots that they rented yearly from the "Confraternity of Santo Rosario" of Cabras. Although the ground was sandy, it was rich in stony artifacts and column fragments, regularly brought to light by the plough. The two farmers continued to accumulate the pieces aside, not understanding their archaeological value.
At the beginning of every sowing season the two finders noticed that the fragments of the previous year had considerably diminished, because they were removed from people aware of their historical value or employed as building material. It was the land’s owner, Giovanni Corrias, that in front of a pile of stones and earth bearing the remains of a giant’s head, realized together with Sisinnio Poddi, that the head belonged to a statue. Corrias immediately informed the archaeologist Giuseppe Pau (Oristano), who in turn alerted the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage for Cagliari and Oristano.
During the early stages of discovery, the archaeologist Giuseppe Atzori insistently pointed out to the authorities the failure to fence the site. Actually at the Center for Restoration and Conservation of Li Punti (Sassari) most of the sculptures are without head and the cause lies in the fact that the site was unattended and was plundered for a long time. The looting was focused on the best parts of the sculptures, principally the head with the enigmatic eyes. Only later the area was purchased and excavation campaigns began.
According to the archaeologist Marco Rendeli, the history of the early researches is fragmented and defective and involves several archaeologists. Some of them performed short-term excavations (Atzori, 1974; Pau 1977), other researchers later carried out programmed investigations (Bedini 1975; Lilliu, Tore, Atzeni 1977; Ferrarese Ceruti-Tronchetti 1977).
General characteristics and stylistic comparisons
On the whole the statues are highly stylized and geometrically shaped, similarly to the so-called "Daedalic style", well established in Crete during the 7th century BC. The face of the statues follows a T-scheme typical of Sardinian bronze statuettes, and of neighbouring Corsican statues. Superciliary arch and nose are very pronounced, the eyes are sunken and symbolically rendered by two concentric circles; the mouth is incised with a short stroke, linear or angular. The height of the statues varies between 2 and 2.50 meters.
They appear to represent boxers, archers and warriors, all standing upright, barefoot and with legs slightly parted. Feet are clearly defined, resting on a square base. A further characteristic is the presence of geometrical, decorative chevron (zig-zag) patterns, parallel lines and concentric circles, in cases where it was not possible, for statics reasons, to represent such motives in relief. This happens both for the object and for bodily features. As an example, the braids coming down at the sides of the face are represented in relief, but the hair is rendered with incised fish-bone patterns. The archers’ brassard is slightly in relief, while the details are rendered with geometrical engravings. These peculiarities – together with other evidences – demonstrate that the Mont'e Prama statues draw heavily on the Sardinian statuettes. The statues should have been originally painted, traces of colors have been recovered on some of them: an archer exhibits a red-painted chest, whereas a black colour has been found on other fragments.
It is difficult to find parallels for these sculptures in the Mediterranean area:
- archaeologist Carlo Tronchetti speaks of fully orientalizing commissioners and ideologies. Accordingly, other scholars – like Paolo Bernardini – identify in the sculptures Oriental influences, with some similarities to archaic Etruscan sculptures;
- archaeologist Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway finds resemblances to Picentines, Lunigianian and Daunian sculptures of the 8th - 5th centuries BC, thus collocating the statues within the stylizing Italic and Aegean naturalistic current;
- according to Giovanni Lilliu the sculptures belong to the geometric style, underscored by the engraved ornamental signs, and take direct inspiration from the Sardinian statuettes of the "Abini-Teti" type. According to the distinguished archaeologist it is thus profoundly wrong to assign the statues to the Orientalizing period, with the possible exception of the colossal body structure;
- archaeologist Marco Rendeli considers unsatisfactory all the attempts to compare the Sinis statues to those found in Hellenic, Italic, and Etruscan areas. According to him the correct approach implies understanding the statues as a unicum, originated from interactions between Levantine artisans and Nuragic commissioners. This uniqueness is confirmed also by the peculiar well-tombs of the necropolis, finding no parallels in other sites, either in Western or in Eastern Mediterranean.
Boxer is the conventional term referring to a category of Nuragic bronze statuettes, furnished with a weapon similar to the cestus, that wraps the forearm with a rigid sheath, probably metallic.
It is generally believed that the boxers were taking part in sacred or funeral games in honor of the deceased, like elsewhere in the Mediterranean area.
Boxers are invariably represented bare-chested, with engraved navel or nipples; and they wear loin-cloths with the rear trimmed to a triangle, a typical feature of Sardinian bronze boxers and warrior figurines, such as the "archer of Serri" (from Serri, the findspot).
The upper part of the chest is protected by a belt from which –in some cases – shallow grooves departs, depicting the strings used to tie the loin-cloths.
The boxers’ heads are covered by a smooth cap. A sleeve running from the elbow down, presumably originally in leather, protects their right arm. The sleeve terminates with a rounded cap into which the weapon, in metal or other material, was inserted.
The rectangular, curved shield is held by the left arm and raised above the men's head. It was most probably made of leather or other flexible material, given that it is bent on the long sides. Furthermore, internally it is framed with wooden twigs, whereas the external part is characterized by an embossed rim all along the perimeter. The shield appears to be fixed, on the internal side, to an armband decorated with chevron patterns, worn at the elbow of the left arm.
The figure of the boxer is attested in bronze statuettes, among which – beyond Sardinian specimens – is the notable figurine found at Vetulonia within the "tomb of the ruler".
The most similar bronze figurine however, both for typology and for distinguishing marks, is the statuette from Dorgali.
The fragments have, up to now, allowed restoration of five statues for this iconographic type.
Archers show more variation than boxers, despite their much smaller number. The most frequent iconography represents a male warrior dressed in a short tunic. A square pectoral with slightly concave sides is worn on top of a tunic. In some cases the tunic reaches the groin, in other instances the genitals are left exposed.
Beyond the pectoral, other elements of the panoply are represented, such as gorger and helmet. The different fragments of upper limbs often show the left arm furnished with a brassard holding a bow, while the right hand is extended forward like in the typical gesture of salutation commonly seen in Sardinian bronze statuettes.
Legs are protected by peculiar greaves with notched borders, hanging by laces underneath the tunic; a leg guard shows a figure-of-eight outlined in its back, while a sandal is occasionally depicted on a fragmented foot.
Depiction of weapons is extremely detailed. In analogy to bronze figurines, the quiver is sculpted on the back, in a very refined way.
It is furthermore evident that there are two types of bow:
- a heavy one with a quadrangular cross-section and cross-ribbed;
- a lighter one with circular cross-section, possibly pertaining to a mixed weaponry.
Nuragic soldiers comprised in fact archers, swordsmen and warriors bearing a mixed weaponry, consisting of a bow and a sword. Bow and sword may be outstretched at the same time, such as in the "Uta-type" bronze figurines (from Uta, the findspot), or the sword may remain in the scabbard while the archer is shooting an arrow.
The quiver-scabbard pair is visible in at least one statue and finds parallels either in the "Uta" and in the "Abini-type" bronze figurines (the latter named after their finding spot, the Nuragic sanctuary of "Abini" in Teti). Archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu stressed in particular the similarity between the crescent-shaped hilt of the Mont'e Prama statue and the one held by the archer of Santa Vittoria di Serri, wearing the same loincloth, trimmed in the back like a tailcoat, as the Monte Prama boxers.
Archers’ faces are similar to those of the boxers, with the hair gathered up in braids coming down at the face sides. The head is protected, up to the nape, by a calotte-shaped, crested and horned helmet, with the ears left free.
Several fragments show that the horns are slightly curved and bending forward, of uncertain length and pointed at the end (different from the warriors); furthermore there are traces of a support, obtained from the same stone, joining the horns approximately at their half-length.
This iconographic type – very often represented among the Nuragic bronze figurines – has been reported only twice among the Mont'e Prama statues, plus a third possible case, of which only one is in a good state of preservation. However, a reassembled shield, not assigned to any of the former three specimens, and numerous other fragments of a shield and (possibly) of a torso, suggest that the number of warriors was larger.
Initially, the fragments of round-shaped shields had been attributed to archers, but later the hilt of a sword and similarities of the shields geometrical patterns to those of some bronzetti, led to postulate the presence of one or more statues of warriors.
Warriors differs from archers essentially through their garb.
The best preserved head exhibits an "envelope-shaped", crested and horned Nuragic helmet that – like archers' helmets – must have presented the typical long horns portrayed in bronze figurines. Several small cylindrical fragments have in fact been found during excavations. Once recomposed, some of these horns appear to bear small spheres at their terminal ends, like in some bronzetti, either anthropomorphic (in this case only warriors, never archers) or zoomorphic.
The best preserved warrior's statue is among the most striking pieces of Mont'e Prama. Besides the horned helmet – whose horns are broken – it is marked by the presence of an armour with vertical stripes, short on the back but solid on the shoulders and more expanded on the breast.
By analogy with armours visible on several bronze figurines, it is thought that the breastplate was built of metal strips applied on hardened leather. A panel, decorated and fringed, comes out from the lower part of the breastplate.
The shield is represented in a very detailed way, with chevron patterns reminiscent of geometrical drawings on pintaderas, and with radiating grooves that converge towards the shield-boss.
The bronze figurine most similar to the warriors of Monte Prama is the one found at Senorbì.
Multi–towered nuraghe were the highest megalithic constructions ever built – after the Egyptian pyramids – during the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean protohistoric area. The central tower from nuraghe Arrubiu (Orroli), one of the largest in the Island, reached the height of thirty meters and the general plan of that monument consists of at least nineteen towers articulated around several courtyards, occupying an area of about 3000 meters square excluding the village which lies outside the walls. It was the result of a unified design covering both the keep and the pentagonal bastion all made at the same stage in the fourteenth century BC.
A nuraghe model is defined as the down-scaled, three-dimensional representation of Nuragic towers and castles, for sacred and/or political purposes. In analogy to the full-sized monuments, models can be divided into two general categories:
- complex nuraghe models, with a higher central tower surrounded by bastions and four further towers, the so-called quadrilobate (or multi–towered nuraghe);
- models of simple, single-towered nuraghe.
At the restoration center of Li Punti it has been possible to reconstruct five models for complex nuraghes and twenty for simple nuraghes. The models of Mont'e Prama are characterized by their notable size, up to 1,40 m in height for quadrilobates and between 14 and 70 cm in diameter for the single towered specimens, and by some unusual technical features.
These big sculptures are in fact modular, unlike the remaining nuraghe models from Sardinia, in that the shaft of the mast tower is joined to the top part through an inter-space, whose pivot and binder is constituted by a core of lead. Upper platforms have been faithfully represented in the various nuraghe models. On the top of the towers a conical, dome-shaped element has been sculpted, indicating the covering of a staircase leading to the platform itself.
Several architectural elements have been represented with engraved signs. The parapet of the platform has been portrayed with a single or double row of incised triangles, or with vertical lines, similar to miniaturized nuraghes from other Sardinian sites, e.g. the high-relief from nuraghe Cann'e Vadosu and the nuraghe model from the meeting hut of Su Nuraxi in Barumini. Also the big slab-stones supporting the platforms have been rendered with decorative signs. The stone brackets and their function have been depicted by means of parallel incised lines or grooves and the blocks – abundantly found in archaeological sites after the collapse of top parts – confirm the perfect matching of these models with the Nuragic architecture of Middle and Recent Bronze Age.
The word "baetylus", probably from Hebraic Beth-El ("house of God"), originally denoted sacred stones of simple geometric shape and aniconic. In analogy to the religious meaning borne by their oriental counterparts, it is thought that for the Nuragics they could represent the deity’s house or the god himself, in an abstract and symbolic way. This is suggested by their constant presence in the cultic places of Nuragic civilization, from sanctuaries like Su Romanzesu in Bitti, to giants’ graves.
These artifacts can be divided into cone-shaped and truncated cone-shaped baetyls. The distinction is chronologically relevant, in that the latter are more recent and pertain to isodomic stone block giants’ graves. At Mont'e Prama truncated cone-shaped baetyls with holes, of the so-called "Oraggiana" (or "Oragiana") type, have been found. According to archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, the holes could represent the eyes of a deity, protecting and watching over the tombs. Nuragic baetyls are symbolic items typical of the Middle and Recent Bronze Age, sculpted approximately from the 14th century BC.
Their presence in the Mont'e Prama necropolis has been explained by Lilliu with two alternative hypotheses: the baetyls originated from a wrecked giants’ tomb or they are reproductions of more ancient specimens, due to a wish to preserve an ancient line of Nuragic tradition, in a sort of nostalgic commemoration. The double row of holes noticed in one of the baetyls from Mont'e Prama, unattested elsewhere in Sardinia, suggests that these artifacts are the same age as the necropolis. Some scholars believe in fact that they were expressly produced for the Monti Prama complex.
The dating problem
The chronology of the statues is still highly debated, due to various difficulties in establishing the period either of their production or of their violent deposition.
The first and most general question concerns their original placement, namely whether they were positioned on top of the necropolis or were associated with a temple located elsewhere.
According to some scholars the statues were sculpted in order to give a monumental character to the necropolis and placed immediately on top of the tombs. Others think that there are no evidences in favour of this hypothesis and that the statues originally were guarding a temple building, dating to the Final Bronze Age and dedicated to Sardus Pater.
A second general problem is the paucity of dated finds; pottery is extremely scant, the few fragments recovered date to the 9th century BC; the tombs are mostly stripped of grave goods, with the exception of tomb nr. 25 where an Egyptian scarab was found, and for some scholars, more precisely a Hyksos-type scaraboid.
The typology of scarabs similar to the Sinis specimen began to be produced during the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, then continuing in the New Kingdom, especially during the Twentieth dynasty (ca. 1187-1064 BC). The specific design of the Mont'e Prama seal is almost identical to a scarab found at the Samarian site of Tell Farah or at the Palestinian site of Tall al-Ajjul, the latter often identified as Sharuhen, the last Hyksos stronghold. However the most recent scarab belonging to this typology – although quite different in the design – had been found in Tyre and dated to the 8th century BC.
The Mont'e Prama scarab was considered by archaeologists to be made of ivory or bone, but recent archaeometric analyses make it clear that it is a glazed steatite of Egyptian origin. Careful typological considerations showed that it is a true Egyptian scarab, picturing a stylized lotus ﬂower and dated to 1130-945 BC. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that dating sites and monuments through scarabs is scarcely reliable, given that these small objects can remain in use for many centuries after their production, as demonstrated in several cases.
The bronze fibula (brooch) found among the debris, seems to confirm a dating to the first half of the 8th century BC. Color traces, of animal origin, have been found on the stony surfaces and analysed at the restoration center of Li Punti. Although biological material could in principle be submitted to radiometric dating, the amounts of pigment found are too small for this. Such a coloring should not be in any case accidental and suggests that the statues had been originally painted.
A Punic amphora fragment found underneath an archer’s bust, offers a secure terminus ante quem non of the 4th century BC for the violent deposition of the sculptures. The archaeologist Carlo Tronchetti talking about that fragment wrote that the formation of the archaeological context:
.....has taken place during the late 4th century BC if not the first decades of the 3rd century BC, as indicated by the ceramic later found inside the heap of pieces of statues, even with large fragments found in the lower part of the context. A large terracotta rim fragment of a Punic amphora found under a torso it is accurate testimony.— Carlo Tronchetti, Le tombe e gli eroi. Considerazioni sulla statuaria nuragica di Monte Prama, pp 145—167.
A fragment of a Mont'e Prama-like statue was found at the holy well of Banatou (Narbolia), not far from nuraghe s'Uraki, together with mixed Punic and Nuragic pottery; but difficulties accompanying the excavations do not allow a reliable dating of this sculpted head.
Another general problem is the chronological relation of the huge statues to Sardinian bronze figurines (Sardinian: brunzittos / Italian: bronzetti), whose date is also presently highly debated: several scholars in fact maintain, by now, that the production of bronzetti began already between 1100 and 1000 BC as the stratigraphy of the Funtana Coberta site shows; the publication of data relating to the excavation of the giants' grave of Orroli, not far from multi–towered nuraghe Arrubiu, corroborate previous studies at Funtana Coberta, confirming heavily that the bronze figurines date back to Bronze Age and not from Early Iron age, as some scholars have believed until now: in an undisturbed archaeological context, in fact, bronze figurines dating from the 13th to the 12th century BC have been discovered.
Given the close similarity between statues and bronzetti, it is questionable whether the former did inspire the latter – thus being more ancient – or, on the contrary, whether the bronzetti were models imposed by Nuragic aristocracy to the artisans: in this case the statues would be more recent than the bronzetti.
In July 2007 archaeologist Antonietta Boninu, head of the sculptures restoration in the center of Li Punti in Sassari said:
...We are inclined to believe that they date back to the 11th – 10th century BC, ie the Late Bronze Age, even if the date is still uncertain. So far there has been no one who has put data all together and there are those who believe that they date from a later period, to the 8th - 7th century BC. The uncertainty stems from the fact that they were found in a place other than that in which they were originally.— Alice Andreoli, Venerdì di Repubblica, July 27, 2007, L'armata sarda dei Giganti di pietra, pp 82–83.
In December 2012 archaeologists Alessandro Bedini, Carlo Tronchetti, Giovanni Ugas, Raimondo Zucca, some of them authors of the archaeological excavations at Mont'e Prama, proposed for the first time a reliable dating of the Heroon placing it in a period of between the 9th century BC and the end of the 8th century BC.
Ideological aspects of the monumental complex
In general, scholars see in the Mont'e Prama complex a self-celebration site for a Nuragic aristocratic elite and its idealized, heroic warriors. Its strategic location within the Gulf of Oristano would thus aim to transmit to foreign visitors, especially the Phoenicians settled in Sardinia, a message of dominion and power over the island.
Nuraghe models found together with the statues can be seen both as sacred symbols and as a claim for Nuragic identity:
- as symbols of identity, the various nuraghe models sculpted around the 10th century BC, would be a downright totem of the Nuragic world, besides being a symbol of power like the statues. Nuraghe models are in fact present in big meeting or "reunion huts" of several nuraghes, among which su Nuraxi at Barumini;
- as sacred symbols, nuraghe models could have been seen as guardians for the dead of a necropolis and/or as ritual devices, given their presence as altars in all the great Nuragic sanctuaries. This sacred/political ambivalence, the depiction of nuraghes in everyday objects such as buttons, smoothing tools and others, attest through the so-called models, a real cult of the Nuraghe monument.
Despite a general consensus about values and ideologies underlying the monumental complex of Mont'e Prama, political implications and artistic influences are still hotly debated. As for political significance, some scholars tend to see in the small number of warriors, with respect to archers, a sign of military and political decay of the Nuragic society, caused by the establishment of Phoenician centers in Sardinia. This would be mirrored by the import and adoption of Levantine ideological models and by assignment of the statues to the orientalizing period spreading throughout the Mediterranean area during the 8th century BC.
Recent researches (2010) have nevertheless demonstrated that the old idea of a Nuragic civilization collapsing upon the arrival of Phoenicians and their colonization of Sardinia, is completely outdated. Phoenicians started to arrive in Sardinia around the 9th century BC, in small number, and remained scattered along the coastline. This period was the heyday of Nuragic society and Phoenicians started to cooperate with the Nuragics that, in turn, continued to administer harbours and economic resources.
According to archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, the statues were not erected during a period of political decay, but during a great cultural revolution affecting aristocracy, economy and politics. The sculptures would thus reflect an independent and sovereign condition of Nuragic people.
Furthermore, the geometric "Abini-Teti style", rules out a possible placement of the statues within the orientalizing culture and period, only appearing in bronze artifacts of the 7th century BC. It is thus correct to speak of a Proto-Sardinian, oriental artistic trend. According to Giovanni Lilliu the statues belong to an indigenous artistic and political climax, with an almost urban character.
Possible manufacturing techniques
- a stone-cutter’s chisel, that is a chisel with blades of diverse sizes;
- an implement similar to a hand scraper, employed like or together with abrasives;
- a dry-point to carve sharp lines in detail;
- an instrument to produce holes, similar to a drill, whose usage by Nuragic people has been proven by archaeological finds;
- a tool similar to compass to engrave circular lines, such as those of the round eyes. About that tool Peter Rockwell wrote that:
...each eye is made of two concentric circles that seem to be perfect circles. One could imagine that this was done with a compass, but there is no sign of the compass in the center of the eye. We are faced with statues that although it seems a bit primitive in the project, have been carved with a skill that is equal to that of much more advanced periods.
It is sure that Nuragic civilisation knew the compass because one iron compass was found at "Nuraghe Funtana", near Ittireddu.
- a tooth chisel, that is a stone-cutter's chisel having a toothed and sharp edge, particularly suitable for marble sculpture, leaving the most interesting traces on the Giants. This tool was hit keeping it slanted on the surface, in order to create a first polishing with grooves of different tightness. According to scholars, this technique was introduced in Greece not before the 6th century BC.
Other examples of sculptures
Other similar sculptures are the finds from Viddalba (Ossi), held at the Museum Sanna of Sassari, and from Bulzi, of which not even the exact provenance is known. They are characterized as being halfway between statues and baetyls.
The crested and pointed helmet again draws heavily on bronze figurines, in particular on the "archer of Serri" and on an archer found at the megaron temple of Domu 'e Urxia. The sculptures are in limestone, the face has the familiar T-scheme, with two holes representing eyes. The crested helmet with front visor, is furnished with two hollows into which limestone horns, that have left some remnants, were fitted. If the crest recalls the helmets of some Nuragic bronzetti, the hollows hosting horns are in common with statue-menhirs of Cauria and Filitosa, dated to 1200 BC and assigned to the Torrean civilization, closely related to the Nuragic one.
According to archaeologist Paolo Bernardini, monumental statuary appears also at the site of "San Giovanni Sergiu", in South Sardinia, most probably linked to a necropolis. At the site, a surface survey among the stones piled from a field tillage uncovered a head carved in sandstone, surmounted by a tall and bent headgear, embellished with tusks. The lineaments, extremely damaged, still preserve two nested circles representing eyes, identical to those of the statues of Mont'e Prama, and a sharp chin. Other fragments from the same site seem to belong to a human trunk with a cross belt, with a clear image of a small palm tree, sculpted in relief and partially painted in red.
Possible fragments of statues have been found in the sacred building of "Sa Sedda 'e Sos Carros" (Oliena), dedicated to the cult of water; some quoins, used as raw stone material to level out the stone floor, show traces of relief decorations reminiscent of those on the fragments of shields from Mont'e Prama; this possible link is reinforced by the finding of a putative fragment of a foot.
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Further reading related to Nuragic civilisation
- Vincenzo Santoni (2004). The Losa nuraghe in Abbasanta (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. ISBN 88-7138-314-1. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- Alberto Moravetti (2003). The Nuragic Sanctuary of Santa Cristina (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. ISBN 88-7138-294-3. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- Giovanni Maria Demartis (1986). The Necropolis of Anghelu Ruju (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- Ercole Contu (1988). The Nuraghe Santu Antine (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- Alberto Moravetti (1992). The Nuragic complex of Palmavera (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. ISBN 88-7138-179-3. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- Angela Antona Ruju (1992). The Albucciu Nuraghe and Arzachena’s Monuments (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Maria Luisa Ferrarese Ceruti. Sassari: Delfino. ISBN 88-7138-267-6. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
- Alberto Moravetti (2003). Serra Orrìos and Dorgali's archaeological monuments (PDF). Archaeological Sardinia. Sassari: Delfino. ISBN 88-7138-177-7. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
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- Nuragic civilisation
- History of Sardinia
- Nuragic bronze statuettes
- Bronze Age collapse
- Sea People
- History of Carthage