The nuraghe (continued)

(continued from The nuraghe) The nuraghe-culture is primarily that of a community of farmers and shepherds that for their crops needed a fixed territory and for their herds a larger area that was used to move the animals around. This would explain the geographical position of the nuraghi and the large number needed to control that territory 26. The nuraghe-culture is also connected to the melting of bronze demonstrated by the finds of hoards and traces of metallurgy in the vicinity of nuraghi. Sardinia was part of a wide regional network of commerce in metals at the time 27.

The function of the nuraghe

Already since the sixteenth century scholars interested in the past wrote about the many towers of Sardinia called nuraghi, often reduced to mere heaps of stone. Different hypotheses were launched about the function of the buildings: gravetombes, sanctuaries, for military defense or habitations 28. It would go too far to go into all the theories but it suffices here to say that until the present day it is an ongoing discussion amongst historians and archaeologists what functions the nuraghe could have had. The most plausible theory commonly accepted is that the nuraghi were built as a response to the need to create a defendable environment. This environment consisted in the immediate surrounding territory used for agriculture and the herding of cattle. It would explain the position of the nuraghi: on the edge of higlands or on the border of arable lands and not so much on military strategic places 29. The theory is that the nuraghi marked the wider area wherin a community or group or even a single family lived 30. Whether the nuraghe itself was always used to house a family has not yet been proven by excavations according to Michels and Webster in their study on nuragic settlement 31, but Lilliu proposes that the people occupied the higher and drier stories of the buildings and therefore traces of habitation are harder to find 32.

In the course of the centuries the nuragic society became more complex with chiefs playing a more important role. Political and economical power was concentrated in their hands and the important nuraghi were amplified with additional towers, walls and bastions to become the centre of their little realms 33. Undoubtedly competition between the chiefs has played an important role in the amplification of the complexer nuraghi. These nuraghi had a definite political and military function. The number of complex nuraghi is smaller than that of the single tower nuraghi and they would have controlled a wider territory 34. The nuraghi remained in use also during the first centuries of roman occupation and were called castra by the romans, denoting their military use 35.

Archaeological and historical research on nuraghi

The first historical description of nuraghi in modern times known to us is from the hand of Sigismund Arquer (Sardiniae brevis historia et descriptio, 1558). Until the nineteenth century scholars noticed mainly the remains of the nuraghi more than the other archaeological sites 36. In the middle of the nineteenth century the interest in archaeology in Europe increased, also in Sardinia. This was the time of the unification of Italy and it was in this period that Giovanni Spano started his periodical the Bullettino Archeologico Sardo (1855) with the subtitle ossia raccolta dei monumenti antichi di ogni genere di tutta l'isola di Sardegna. With enthousiasm Giovanni Spano informed his small group of readers about all the archaeological finds in Sardinia. He made use of a broad network of corrispondents around the island. In 1884 the periodical was taken up by Ettore Pais. It was also at the start of the nineteenth century that for the first time in Sardinia an archaeological museum was created in Cagliari (1802) where the most important artefacts were exposed to the public 37. However method and approach were far from scientific and the context of many finds was not recorded at all leading also to the accumulation of many false bronzes.

In the first half of the twentieth century scientific methods were introduced in archaeology, thanks to improved fieldwork and excavation techniques. Classification was an important means of dating ceramics and other artefacts. It was the time of archaeologists like Antonio Taramelli and Massimo Pallotino who contributed much to the knowledge of the nuraghi and the nuraghe-culture 38. After Worldwar II modern sciences were introduced, contributing to an even more scientific approach of archaeology. It was Giovanni Lilliu that through his studies of prehistory and the nuragic period became the leading archaeologist for Sardinia. In the last decennia many studies have followed on the nuraghi and the nuraghe-culture in the context of the European bronze age and the Mediterranean setting. Still many questions are unanswered, one of those is who exactly the nuraghe-builders were and where they came from. Whether a definite answer can be given is yet to be seen.

The future of the nuraghi

It is the robust architecture that made nuraghi survive in to our times, for over 3000 years they stood unattended in the countryside. Most nuraghi have been reduced to mere heaps of stone, none have the upper part intact and many second and third floors of the towering structures have disappeared. Many nuraghi have been dismantled to reuse the stones for foundations, roads and railways 39. Some have disappeared completely under modern towns and villages. Only a very small part of the towers and complex nuraghi have been transformed into monuments suitable to be visited. Many simple nuraghi are situated on private property and there are so many that it is impossible to oversee them all. A number of nuraghi will disappear even in our times. Fortunately the nuraghi have received international recognition as a unique cultural heritage of mankind. Su Nuraxi near Barumini represents the 6500 nuraghi and the nuraghe culture on the list of worldheritage of the UNESCO, thanks also to the work of Giovanni Lilliu. In the past decennia awareness of the historical value has increased and the preservation has become part of regional and local policies, the nuraghi have become part of the growing tourist industry of Sardinia and are creating new jobs for the young people.


26 Lilliu 2003: p. 562
27 Lo Schiavo 1985: description of a deposit of bronze axes and ingots 'panelle' near Nuraghe Flumenelongu (Alghero)
28 Melis 2003: p. 22-25
29 Lilliu 2003: p. 566. Melis 2003: p. 24. Webster 1996: p. 97
30 Michels 1987: p. 5-9
31 Michels 1987: p. 106
32 Lilliu 2006: p. 40-41
33 Lilliu 2003: p. 593. Lilliu 2006: p. 46-47. Webster 1996: p. 108
34 Webster 1996: p. 132, with the method of Thiessen polygons Webster has elaborated a model of territorial influence of important nuraghi in the west and south of Sardinia
35 see Michels 1987: in excavations near Nuraghe Toscono it has been established that in roman times the nuraghe was still used.
36 Lilliu 2006: p. 7
37 Ruggeri 1999: Introductions to the series reprints of the periodical of Giovanni Spano, Bolletino Archeologico Sardo since 1855. Lilliu 2006: p. 11
38 Pallottino 1950: reprint in 2000 with a foreword by Giovanni Lilliu
39 Michels 1987: p.5, The author tells of the disappearance of nuraghi that were described in 1935 according to Taramelli but had disappeared in 1980. Through this area runs the road ss131 Carlo Felice and the railway Cagliari-Sassari, passing next to Borore.


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