Sardinian prehistory in toponyms

03/04/2011 13:52:02

Sardinian prehistory in toponyms

During the time I followed lectures archaeology at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam I had one particular professor for Dutch archaeology. He could tell very colourful about his excavations in the south of the Netherlands. One of the aspects of the research done before starting the excavations was that of the toponyms. In this case that of a place called the hill of the gnomes or goblins (kabouterberg). This was no more than a slight elevation in the landscape but revealed to contain the debris of a roman villa. Toponyms are often an indication of the original function of a particular place which are passed to our days through their name. The same principle was explained during the sessions on Mediterranean Archaeology by another professor, toponyms can often indicate an archaeological interesting site.
On the maps of the Istituto Geografico Militare Italiano you will find about every toponym used in Sardinia. While searching for the locations of the bronze age towers, the nuraghi, many of these toponyms are very much alike around the various villages and towns. Man gave order to his immediate environment and gave it a name. An example is sa bingia beccia (the old vineyard) or s'ena (indication of a vein of water). Reoccurring toponyms are connected to the bronze age towers like su nuraxi, su nurage, su casteddu, nuraxi figu, and indicate that there was or still is a bronze age construction nearby. Sometimes that is only in the memory of the local people, because the toponym is the one thing that remained to indicate the existence of a nuraghe. A toponym like is bangius can indicate the presence of Roman baths (part of a villa sometimes), or is ruinas can indicate the place of a former medieval village or other structures of some importance, and perda longa or preda longa the place where a menhir was erected in prehistoric times.
Next to the new cemetery of the village of Marrubiu there is a region called su nuraxi, just on the other side of a modern irrigation canal. The municipality removed the large boulders at some time and of the nuraghe nothing could be seen when I first visited the site. What remains is a cabine of the electricity and the name in the collective memory.
Domus de JanasNot only territories or land received names, also the actual remains of prehistoric societies still visible in the landscape were given a name associated with myth and legend. The Domus de Janas, the fairies houses, are prehistoric gravechambers in the steep rocky slopes of hills overlooking the countryside. The Tombe di Giganti, giants graves, are cyclopic grave structures often with a large worked slab in front, beleived to be the graves of a population of giants that lived there. And then there are the names for the nuraghi, the Domu de s'Orcu, the house of the orcs, to indicate the living place of terrifying men. The memory of the people that once built these towers and giant's graves or chambers cut out of the rock is long faded into legend and fairy tales told to the next generations about those wonderful places. Just like the dutch remembered the remains of a roman villa as the hill of the goblins.

Sardinian prehistory in toponyms

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