The Stone and the Heroes of Sardinia

04/12/2011 14:58:46

The Stone and the Heroes of Sardinia

In 1974 farmer Sissinio Poddi hit a stone with his plough. He stopped his tractor and took a shovel to dig this obstacle out. To his surprise he saw a giant head with two eyes staring at him. He called the archaeological service and within a few years the excavation was under way to reveal what would be the largest collection of giant statues ever found in the western Mediterranean. It then took over thirty years before enough money was assigned to restore these statues that had been litterally shattered in a thousand pieces. The result of this restoration can now be admired in a special exhibition, La Pietra e Gli Eroi, at Sassari from 23 november to 30 december 2011.

Poster of the exhibition at Li Punti
Poster of the exhibition at Li Punti
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 in the graves the buried remains of men and women have been unearthed.
The statues had been crushed and broken in the fourth century BC, the time of the punic domination of Sardinia, and thrown on a heap. When the necropolis was used for the first time is difficult to ascertain because of the lack of deposits but a cautious estimate is to place the use of the necropolis in the seventh century BC. The statues represent boxers with shields (pugilatori) and archers (arcieri). The boxers are dressed in a short skirt, bare-chested and with a kind of glove around their right hand. The archers wear a short tunic and have a helmet with horns, in their lefthand the bow. What the archers held in their right hand varied and is not always clear. The statues measured over 2.5 meters in height.

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. 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 by having made these giant statues of their heroic ancestors of a glorious past. The Stone and the Heroes of Sardinia.

Literature

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
Tronchetti, C. 1988, I Sardi, Milano
Van Dommelen, P. 1998, On Colonial Grounds, Leiden
Ecco i giganti di Mont'e Prama Da oggi in mostra dopo il restauro. Unione Sarda
Giganti di Mont’e Prama verso Cabras e Cagliari. La Nuova Sardegna

The Stone and the Heroes of Sardinia

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