The statues of Mont'e Prama

In 1974 farmer Sissinio Poddi was ploughing his field when he hit stone. He stopped his tractor and took a shovel to dig the obstacle out. To his surprise he saw a giant head with two eyes staring at him. He called the archaeological service and in no time excavations were under way to reveal what would turn out to be the largest collection of giant statues ever found in the western Mediterranean.

It would take over thirty years before the thousands of pieces into which the statues had literally been shattered in the past could be fitted like a jigsaw puzzle. Finally in 2011 the restored statues could be shown to the public. In that occasion we visited the exhibition of Li Punti near Sassari. Probably the statues will reach their final destination in 2016 in the archaeological museum of Cabras, and maybe one or two statues will end up in the archaeological museum of Cagliari. We already had seen two pieces of the giant statues at this last museum a couple of years ago.

The necropolis of Mont'e Prama

Mont'e Prama is a low hill on the peninsula of Sinis in western Sardinia, not far from important archaeological sites like Tharros and Nuraghe s'Uraki. On top of the hill are the remains of a complex nuraghe and at the foot of the hill lay a necropolis (city of the dead), a long row of graves. The statues must have stood on this necropolis where they were excavated under the guidance of archaeologist Carlo Tronchetti, more than 5000 pieces and bits of sandstone. With the statues surfaced parts of models of nuraghi and betils, votive stones of the Oraggiana type. The graves, thirtythree in total, were of the type a pozzetto, a short shaft or pit, covered by a sandstone slab and from the graves the buried remains of men and women have been unearthed 1.

When the necropolis was used for the first time was difficult to establish because of the lack of deposits but archaeologists think it must have been in use in the seventh century BC. The statues have been shattered to pieces in the fourth century BC and thrown in a pit, probably during the punic period in Sardinia. For years farmers have been ploughing the fields, damaging the bits and pieces even more, without realising it. In fact some parts shown distinct marks of the ploughs. It made restoration even harder 2.

The Statues

The statues represent boxers with shields (pugilatori), sword fighters (opliti, guerrieri) with a round shield and archers (arcieri). The boxers are dressed in a short skirt, bare chested and a kind of glove on their right hand. With their left arm they hold a rectangular shield above their head. The hoplites have a round shield and wear a helmet with horns. The archers are dressed in a short tunic, wear a helmet and in their left hand hold their bow. On their right wrist they carry a leather protection. The statues were 2.5 meters high and made from a kind of limestone 3.

The prehistoric context of the statues

The necropolis with the models of nuraghi, the betils of the Oraggiana type and the giant statues have to be interpreted in the light of the specific prehistoric context. There is a clear reference to a heroic past, this interpretation is reinforced by the production of numerous statuettes in bronze (bronzetti) that have affinity with the giant statues. Of each type of giant statue a similar bronze statuette exists 4. The nuraghi, bronze age towers and fortresses, had long lost their main purpose and had become centers of devotion and adoration. Aristocratic families had gained control over the religious, social and economic life of the villages and monopolized trade with the outside world, the phoenicians and the etruscans. They legitimized their power and showed off their riches and prestige through these giant statues that represent their heroic ancestors of a glorious past.

Notes

1 Tronchetti 1988, p 73,77; Tronchetti 2005, p 145-147; Van Dommelen 1998, p 97
2 Tronchetti 1988, p 74; Lilliu 1981, p 192 dates the statues to the eighth century BC
3 Tronchetti 1988, p 74-75; Tronchetti 2005, 148-150; Tronchetti mentions in his text only two types of statues: pugilatori and arcieri
4 Tronchetti 1988, p 75-76; Tronchetti 2005, p 151-152; Van Dommelen 1998, p 110

Bibliography

1. Lilliu G. 1981, Bronzetti e Statuaria nella Civiltą Nuragica in: Ichnussa, la Sardegna dalle origini all'etą classica, Milano, p 177-251
2. Tronchetti, C. 1988, I Sardi, Milano
3. Tronchetti, C. 2005, Le tombe e gli eroi. Considerazioni sulla statuaria di Monte Prama, in: Il Mediterraneo di Herakles, ed. P. Bernardini e R. Zucca, Roma, p. 145-167
4. Van Dommelen, P. 1998, On Colonial Grounds, Leiden

Last updated 11/01/2015

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