Iconography

Archers

Bronze statuette representing an archer. Baunei, unknown site.
Some statues of archers after restoration

The type represented is that of the praying archer known from bronze statuettes.
Indeed, comparison with the bronzes has been very useful for reconstruction of the missing parts of the stone statue.
Unfortunately, since we have no well-preserved heads, we can only assume they were similar to those of the warriors.

The attitude is that of a greeting, with the right arm bent at the elbow and the hand raised in the gesture of greeting/devotion/offering. With the left, the archer holds his bow resting on his shoulder; the hand is protected by a glove decorated with a relief zigzag pattern, which leaves the fingers free. The forearm is protected by an arm guard, depicted by a dense pattern of triangles, probably indicating an animal skin. The bow has a thick string and, on the front, a small strip in relief which runs over its whole surface.

The carefully finished arm of the statue of an archer known as ‘Prexiau’. On show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
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.
The head attributed to the Archer known as ‘Compoidori’ on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.
Detail of the bust of the statue of the archer known as ‘Cabillu’; note the plaque in relief of the breastplate. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.
Detail of the legs of the statue of the archer known as ‘Cabillu’; note the decorative detail on the leg guards. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

The archers, many of which also have long plaits of hair falling on their chest, wear a short tunic leaving bare part of the thighs. Their trunk is protected by a pectoral, square and with concave sides. Triple strings hold the pectoral, and a motif of closely spaced horizontal lines completes it. The calves are well protected by shin guards, while the feet are bare. In some statues, the back of the armour is decorated by bands of horizontal fish-bone motifs. In other statues, the back of the legs is carved to represent the strings holding the shin guard, with an eight-shaped design. To the front, the shin guard reaches above the knee and ends with a strap reaching under the tunic. The archers are barefoot, with their feet set parallel on the base; the legs are not joined but separate and meet at the feet.

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Warriors

Bronze figurine of a warrior. Senorbì, Santu Teru.
The statues of warriors reconstructed to date.

The statues representing warriors are those in the worse state of conservation.
They were sculpted all-round, but the side view is far less developed than the front and back.

The head of the statue of a warrior known as ‘Gherreri’, on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
The delicate decoration on a band on the kilt of the statue of a warrior known as ‘Gherreri’. This statue is on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Detail of the decoration on a band on the kilt of the statue of a warrior known as ‘Gherreri’. This statue is on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

The face is triangular in shape and follows the “T” design formed by the nose and brow, surmounting two large round eyes with double engraved circle. The head is protected by a helmet with central ribbing and two horns.
The trunk is long and relatively flat. Their bodies are covered by a tunic reaching just below the groin. On the tunic is a carefully worked vertical panel starting from the waist, decorated on the lower edge by engraved motifs, and ending in thick fringes. The warrior is protected by a pectoral decorated with thick vertical strips in relief.

The torso, protected by armour of the statue of a warrior known as ‘Gherreri’ on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Fragments of a warrior’s shield on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Reconstruction of the warrior’s shield on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

The main arm of defence is the large round shield held in the left hand, while the right hand holds a long sword resting on the shoulder, a reconstruction made possible by comparison with the bronze figurines. The shield too is depicted in great detail: it has a central boss in relief and chevron motifs, variously combined, recalling geometrical motifs.
The legs have powerful calves and strong thighs, the bare feet are fixed to the base and the toes are shown in detail.

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Boxers

Bronze figurine showing a boxer. Dorgali, Cala Gonone.

The boxers covering their heads with their shields make up the largest number of reconstructed statues, although in varying states of conservation.
In this case too, the bronze figurines have been of help in reassembling the statues, although interpretation of this design is not simple and at times uncertain.
Based on the most complete statues, we can easily reconstruct the prototype of the boxer.

The statues showing boxers are the most numerous.

He is shown as a bare-chested man with a powerful body, holding over his head a rectangular shield with rounded edges. His right arm is protected by an arm guard ending at the fist with a tip and he wears only a loincloth with a point to the rear, held up by a band with overlapping flaps at the front, while on the back it becomes larger with a W-shaped design. The details of this garb are shown with great care.

The statue rests firmly on bare feet set on a rectangular base. The calves are well marked, as is the shinbone, depicted in a clear and angular manner; the thighs are strong and short relative to the trunk. These statues convey the idea of robust, stocky men.

Close up view of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Fastigiadu’, on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Head of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Efis’. Note the detail of the hairstyle and the decorated band round the forearm, one of the two which held the shield. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

In two statues the face is perfectly preserved. This makes it possible for us to appreciate its flat triangular form with chin cutting horizontally, with the “T” shape formed by nose and brow and the large round eyes with double circle. The mouth is marked by a narrow engraved line; the ears are semi-circular in shape and hollowed in the centre. The face is surrounded by narrow plaits of hair reaching down to the chest.

The head and shield of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Efis’, clearly visible are the details of the ribbing of the shield. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.
Profile of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Fastigiadu’ on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
The head of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Sisinnio’ on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Close up of the face of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Sisinnio’ on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Detail of the ankle of the statue of a boxer known as 'Lussurgiu', extremely stylish is the band decorating the leg guard. This statue is on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
The legs and kilt with a point to the rear, held by a band with overlapping flaps to the front, of the statue of a boxer known as ‘Crabarissu’. This statue is on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

This type of figure is known conventionally known as ‘boxer’ although its actual interpretation is still uncertain.
Some scholars consider them lightly-armed warriors, equipped for close combat: striking with the sheathed arm and protecting themselves with their shields.
Others see them as athletes competing in sacred, bloody games in honour either of the divinity or of the dead: the boxers would thus be linked to sacred rituals.

Bronze figurine from the tomb of Cavalupo at Vulci
One of the two statues of boxers found during the excavation campaign of 2014 and on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras
Detail of the shield handgrip of one of the two statues of boxers found during the excavation campaign of 2014. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.
One of the two statues of boxers, still undergoing restoration, found during the excavation campaign of 2014. This statue is on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

In the excavation campaign carried out in 2014 archaeologists found two statues showing a different “boxer” subject: the right arm is not held on high with the fist resting on the shield, but is held horizontally across the chest; the shield is not semi-cylindrical and with rounded edges with and held above the head, but it is held by the left arm vertically along the body and has a great fold which in part protects the body. Lastly, the feet have sandals and are not bare.
This discovery is exceptional as a sign of a new iconography among the statues, which is also very rare among the bronze figurines. Only one Nuragic bronze statuette with similar iconography is known.
This is the bronze figurine from the tomb of Cavalupo at Vulci, in the Lazio region, dating from the 9th century BC, which in the past had been interpreted as representing a priest.

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Models of nuraghe

Bronze statuette of a complex nuraghe and what seems a rectangular temple. Ittireddu, unknown site.

The models of nuraghe were already known, as examples had been found at several different sites (e.g. in the Palmavera nuraghe near Alghero, in the sanctuary of Santa Vittoria di Serri, in the Su Nuraxi nuraghe of Barumini, in the Bia ’e Decimu locality at San Sperate, and in the countryside of San Vero Milis).
These other finds include stone sculptures, in limestone or sandstone, and also models in terracotta or bronze. These examples are not detailed, but are instead schematic depictions highlighting the peculiar aspects of the nuraghe.

At Mont’e Prama, researchers discovered 16 large limestone models of nuraghes: 5 single-tower and 11 complex (4 four-lobed, 6 eight-lobed and one not definable).

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

The most significant are the sculptures showing the Nuragic complex with several towers with a curtain wall enclosing the great central keep. The perimeter towers can be four or eight, and are shown in relief emerging from the corners and sides. They rise higher than the wall and are topped by a terrace. In the centre stands out the tower of the keep, which is higher than the others and is also surmounted by a terrace.
It is interesting to note that no real-size nuraghes with eight lobes – i.e. with eight perimeter towers round the main one – actually exist. Evidently the models showing this design are not faithful reproductions of real structures, but representations increasing the number and height of the towers to celebrate the might of these structures.

Detail of a model of a four-lobed nuraghe on show at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.
Detail of the top part of the keep of a model of four-lobed nuraghe on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum.
View from above of the top part of the keep of a model of four-lobed nuraghe on show at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum of Cabras.

These models are precious because they help archaeologists reconstruct the architectural design of nuraghes. They show us the original aspect of the nuraghes, which we would not otherwise be aware of since they have crumbled or deteriorated over time In particular, we now know that the towers ended with a terrace with wood flooring and parapet, supported by stone corbels.

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Betyls

The betyls are abstract stone sculptures in truncated cone shape. They are thought to be symbolic representations of deities. They are among the first stone elements found at the site. The actual number found at the site is indeterminate, as many fragments are still missing and presumably still on site, while others are in storage. So far, nine betyls have been reconstructed: six in sandstone and three in limestone.

Their top is flattened and slightly beneath it are small square holes arranged in one or two lines.
The name ‘betyl’, from the term bet-el, means ‘house of God’. It is generally an oblong worked stone, with roughly circular cross section, and with pointed or flattened top summit.

Betyls are commonly found in Nuragic-period burial sites.
The betyls of Mont’e Prama are for the most part sculpted in sandstone, unlike the statues found in the area, which are in limestone.
Some scholars consider them to be more ancient than the statues of human forms and thus speculate that they were moved from more ancient ‘tombs of the giants’ (collective chamber tombs) dating from the Bronze Age, at the time the necropolis-sanctuary was built. Others suggest that these betyls were made from a different kind of stone on purpose for these graves. Be as it may, these carved stones, set up next to the tombs to mark them out, were presumably intended to signify the significance of the area and celebrate the dead, presumably members of the aristocratic class for whom single tombs were reserved.

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References about the iconography of the statues:
Lilliu 1977; Lilliu 1997; Zucca 2000; Bedini-Tronchetti et alii 2012; Usai 2014b; Leonelli 2014; Usai 2014c; Usai 2014d; Usai-Leonelli 2014; Usai-Zucca 2015, pp. 65-90; Tronchetti 2015, pp. 15-30 e relative bibliografie.

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