The statues of Mont’e Prama

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iconography

interpretation

The excavation campaigns carried out from the 1970s at the archaeological site of Mont’e Prama have brought to light about 10,000 fragments of stone, belonging to what has become known as the group of sculptures from Mont’e Prama.
It is a huge, undefined mass of material: new fragments keep coming to light at the sites, which must be recorded and restored before attempting to match them with different sculptures. Many, however, will remain as fragments, as do several hundred others already in storage.

Assembling the fragments during restoration works in the Heritage Restoration Centre of Li Punti.

More than 400 stone pieces were assembled in the first phase of restoration at the Li Punti Centre. Other fragments – found by more recent campaigns – were put together in the Cabras site and form the statues at present on show in the museums of Cagliari and Cabras and mounted on supports.
The recomposed sculptures and now on display include 27 anthropomorphic statues which are not complete – 6 archers, 3 warriors and 18 boxers, one warrior’s shield, 16 models of nuraghes – 5 simple, 4 four-lobed, 6 eight-lobed and one indefinable, 9 betyls – 6 in sandstone and 3 in limestone, and other unidentified sculptures, but the number is gradually growing as excavation of the necropolis continues.

The height of the statues varies from 185 to 200 cm. They rest on a 15 cm base to provide adequate support to the heavy, fragile block of stone.
The sculptures of Mont’e Prama were worked in limestone, a relatively soft, light-coloured stone, presumably quarried in the area of Santa Caterina di Pittinuri, distant from the site some 16 km as the crow flies. Most of the betyls and the base of a large model of a nuraghe are in sandstone, from the western coast of the Sinis, some 5 km away.
Each of the sculptures was worked from a single block of stone and sculpted all round, to be seen from all sides, also from the back, as shown by carved details on the rear.

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Archers

The archers are shown with their right hand extended forward in a ritual greeting and the left holding the bow which rests on their shoulders.
They wear a short tunic leaving part of their thighs uncovered and they are protected by a pectoral. Their legs are separated and are joined at the feet, which are unshod and parallel, fixed to the base.

The bust with carved tresses and chest plate and the front part of the bow of the statue of an archer known as ‘Prexiau’, on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

Warriors

The face of the warriors has a T-shaped design, formed by the nose and the brow. The brow is clearly marked and below it are two large round eyes with double engraved circle. The head is protected by a helmet with a central crest and two horns. The body is covered by a short tunic and armour. The legs have powerful calves and strong thighs, the unshod feet are fixed to the base and the toes are shown in detail.

The statue of a warrior known as ‘Gherreri’ on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

Boxers

The statues of the boxers convey the impression of strong, stocky men. They are shown bare-chested and they wear only a loincloth with a point to the rear. In their left hand they hold over their head a rectangular shield with blunt angles. The right arm is stretched out and bent at right angles; the forearm and fist are protected by a sort of glove with a projecting point, which was probably the arm of ritual combat. This detail is not visible on the recomposed statues, but only on some fragments which could not be matched with a figure.
In two of these statues, the face is perfectly preserved: it follows the “T-shape” geometric pattern with brow and large round eyes with double circle. The calves are well marked, as is the shinbone, the thighs are strong and short relative to the trunk.

The head and an arm of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Efis’, remarkable for the detail of the hairstyle and the decorated strap on the forearm, one of the two straps which held the shield. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

Models of nuraghes

At Mont’e Prama, excavations have brought to light 16 large models of nuraghes in limestone: 5 single-tower and 11 complex (4 four-lobed, 6 eight-lobed and one unclear).
The most interesting are the models of multi-tower nuraghes with a curtain wall enclosing the great central keep.

Model of an eight-lobed nuraghe found during excavations in 2016 and on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

Betyls

The betyls are abstract stone sculptures in truncated cone shape, interpreted as symbolic representations of a divinity. They are some of the first stone elements found at the site.
The betyls are common elements in burials of the Nuragic period.
The betyls of Mont’e Prama are mostly in sandstone, a stone different from the limestone of the statues found in the area.

Discovery of a betyl and fragments of statues during the excavation campaign of 1979.
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 All the finds from the campaigns carried out so far suggest that the sculptures and necropolises of Mont’e Prama are the fruit of a cultural revolution that began in the last centuries of the Bronze Age and had its peak during the Iron Age (about 950-730 BC).

Experts are studying and debating the nature of the site and the significance of this impressive group of statues.
The figures, statues, models of nuraghes and betyls form a coherent whole, while varied as to size, style and workmanship.

Who were the artisans who created these works?
What was the relationship between the sculptures and the necropolis?

1

According to some scholars, the statues stood close to the necropolis and, together with the buried dead, represented the highest social class as to military valour (archers and warriors), in the religious sphere (boxers), and in politics (nuraghe models).

2

According to others, the statues represented their forebears, the mythical heroes of Nuragic legend, while the models of the nuraghes were a symbol of the identity and cohesion of the community and the betyls recalled the ancient sacred stones of the tombs of the builders of the nuraghes.

3

Yet another school of thought sees the statues as commemorating an important event in local Nuragic history.

All agree that the statues had strong symbolic significance, aiming at sending a message of identity and control of the territory, both to the local communities, and to the foreign folk of eastern origin
who in those years were coming from the sea.

Detail of the top part of the keep of a model of four-lobed nuraghe on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum.

The sculptures of Mont’e Prama expressed identity and belonging,
these values were especially significant at a time of change, marked by deep tensions and transformations.

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the places where you can see the sculptures

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iconography

interpretation