Sinis of the heroes - Mont'e Prama

Sinis of the heroes

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historical background

the territory


Historical background

The sculpture complex of Mont’e Prama was not created by a single group of artisans over a short time span. Probably, several different groups worked on this imposing complex.

Who created Mont’e Prama?
The debate among scholars is still open and very lively.

We can find some answers by learning something about the people who lived on the island in the long period running from the end of the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Naturally, the key reference is Nuragic civilisation.

The Bronze Age and Nuragic civilisation

The first evidence of Nuragic civilisation appeared around 1700 BC, in the Middle Bronze Age. The name comes from the nuraghes,
the imposing stone monuments that the people who had settled on the island built to satisfy all the material needs of human communities in full development: towers to guard travel routes, fields, pastures and streams, and also used to concentrate, work, preserve and store food supplies, raw materials and finished goods of all kinds. The towers also constituted the visible and impressive symbols of control of the territory and of organisational capacity in the competition between the various communities. In many cases, the nuraghe was surrounded by a village of round stone huts or even true houses with a more complex layout.

The Santa Barbara nuraghe, Macomer

Another characteristic element of the Bronze-Age Nuragic civilisation were the ‘tombs of the giants’, given this name due to their imposing size.
These were collective tombs consisting of a low corridor-shaped funerary chamber, built above ground with very large stone blocks. At times, the ‘tombs of the giants’ were flanked by ‘betyls’, large conical or truncated cone-shaped stones whose meaning is not clear, but which are thought to symbolise the presence of a deity.

The Nuragic places of worship, on the other hand, were the well temples, consisting of an underground chamber with steps leading down to the well and a false dome (tholos) covering. These structures were linked to the cult of the waters.

The Nuragic peoples lived by tilling the land and breeding livestock and produced bronze objects and tools. They were in close contact with the peoples living at that time in the western and eastern Mediterranean.

Tomb of the giants at Mura Cuada, Paulilatino. On the right, interior of the tomb.

Towards 1200 BC, the construction of nuraghes ceased. Those already existing continued to be used or were abandoned or dismantled, while the villages continued to thrive and develop.
The ‘tombs of the giants’ too stopped being built, but those already existing continued to be used.

The Iron Age: the last period of Nuragic civilisation and contacts with eastern seafarers

With transition from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (between the 12th and 9th centuries BC), both pottery types and the design of villages and sanctuaries changed, and the production of bronze artefacts increased. This was the period of greatest flowering of the mature Nuragic civilisation, by that time profoundly changed from the far off time in which the Cyclopean monuments had been created. Moreover, objects coming from the eastern Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian areas were being used. The seafarers from the Aegean and the Near East had for some time established trading and cultural contacts with the island’s people and in this period they began to construct settlements along the coast. These exchanges and contacts produced significant changes in the uses and customs of the Sardinian populations. We see the beginning of a new society and the settlement of the first Phoenicians in Sardinia.

Phoenician presence in Sardinia is found between the 9th and the 7th centuries BC, and lasted until the arrival of the Carthaginians (the Phoenicians from Carthage) who, in the 6th century BC, conquered part of the island.

The territory

The Sinis is a peninsula of central-western Sardinia consisting of calcareous and volcanic rock. It is partly separated from the rest of the island by the Cabras coastal wetland.
The flat eastern portion is rich in wetlands and marshes. The central plateau reaches a maximum height of 90 meters above sea level. Close to the western extremity are the ruins of the ancient city of Tharros, built by the Phoenicians and then developed by the Carthaginians and the Romans.
The coast is rocky in the southern portion of Capo San Marco and, proceeding towards the north, becomes firstly sandy and subsequently marked by high cliffs.
The Sinis peninsula is a fertile and favourably situated stretch of land, with wetlands suitable for hunting and fishing, with small bays and a gulf offering protection to mariners.

The marsh of Pauli’e Sali, in the background Cape San Marco.

Distribution of settlements

There is scarce but significant archaeological evidence about the civilisations that came before the Nuragic period.
The early Bronze Age is documented by the underground tombs of Serra ‘e is Araus and S’Arrocca Tunda in the area of San Vero Milis, the middle Bronze Age by the rock-cut chamber tombs (domus de janas) found at Serra ‘e is Araus and in the village of Sa Pesada Manna at Cabras.

The chamber tomb (domus de janas) of Serra ‘e is Araus

The Sinis area has a particularly large number of nuraghes.
Between the middle and the late Bronze Age the first multi-centric settlements developed. They were tools for power and control over the territory, in which the nuraghes represented the functional cells, interdependent and organised in a hierarchical system. At the last count, the area has about ninety-three nuraghes and seventy-one Nuragic villages, covering the period between the golden age of the nuraghes and their subsequent decline.
The most notable are the nuraghes Sàrgara, Piscina Arrubia, Su Cadalanu, Leporada and Matta Tramontis in the southern area, in the territory of Cabras, Su Cunventu, Spinarba, Nurache ‘e Mesu and Sa ‘e Procus in the northern part belonging to San Vero Milis. The well temple of Cuccuru ‘e is Arrius, on the southern shore of the Cabras wetland, was built in the late Bronze Age.

Nuraghe S’Urachi

Important finds belong to the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age, which are marked by the spread of farming settlements and the development of late Nuragic material culture.
Moreover, in the period between the 12th and 9th centuries BC, objects of Cypriot origin were in use in the Nuragic village of Su Murru Mannu at Tharros. In the subsequent period, in the 8th and 7th centuries BC Phoenician pottery was present at Tharros and in the Sinis countryside.
From the gulf of Oristano, along the Tirso river valley, pottery and bronze objects from the Near East reached the interior of the island.

All these finds confirm the presence of eastern peoples, mainly Phoenician, who sailed along the western Mediterranean routes in search of raw materials and new markets for their refined artisan products.
In particular, around the 7th century BC the Phoenicians established a settlement at Tharros.

Through Punic and subsequently Roman times, there was continuity in the development of settlements and religious practices, which lasted until the early Imperial period (1st century AD).

find out more

historical background

the territory