Sunday, April 29, 2012

Much still to be uncovered about the fascinating Nuragic civilization

This nuraghe (tower) has lost its top. It was once about twice this height.

Friday, April 28
Most of the week, we have been enjoying dolce far niente—reading, walking or lying on the beach, sitting on the deck, browsing through the street markets, people-watching in piazze. Today we decide to take a short history lesson, and we drive to a nuraghe to find out more about the prehistoric tribes that populated Sardegna.

Inside the tholos, the top is
thicker and the opening narrows.
A nuraghe is a tower in a middle of a community center of a civilization that had its roots here as early as 1800 BC. A nuragic village served as a fortress, city hall, center of trade and dwelling place for the tribal leaders. The people who built them are referred to as the nuragic civilization, taken from the name of their primary structures, and there are between 7,000 and 8,000 nuraghi in Sardegna, one for every three square kilometers.

The nuragic village we visit, La Prisciona, was largely buried by the natural forces of wind, dust, decay and erosion, but careful excavation in recent years has uncovered some of its treasures. Our guide, Ornella, tells us that the heart of the village is a naraghe, a conical tower. La Prisgiona has one eight-meter tower left, but in ancient times, it had two, and they were probably about 40 feet tall.

Many nuragic villages have more towers than La Prisciona did. On the outside, the tower walls are pretty much vertical, but inside they widen at the top, making the opening smaller and smaller. This is called a tholos, or false dome, because from inside, it has the appearance of a dome, but it can still stand without the top being closed completely to support the wall structure. Between the outer wall and inner wall, there was a winding stone staircase, but in La Priscione, it has partly caved in and is no longer passable.

This 1000 BC bronze
Nuragic statue may
give an idea of
what a more elaborate
naraghe looked like.
Outside the tower, Ornella shows us an ancient well, which still has fresh water in the bottom. Many pottery vases have been retrieved from the well and are now displayed in a museum in Sassari. Some were very plain and were used to draw water out, but others were ornate and may have been thrown into the well as part of some kind of ritual, she says.

She also shows us a round meeting room where tribal elders probably met to talk about work, exchange gossip, argue about soccer and gripe about taxes. Well, she wasn’t really that specific about what they discussed, but I am basing my theory on what Italian men of today do in their little groups. In the center of the room was a granite stand which held a pottery pitcher, but archeologists don’t know whether it held wine, beer or some other kind of drink.

Other round rooms outside the tower were likely workshops for potters, tool makers and other craftsmen, Ornella says. This opinion is based on the various fragments found buried on the floors. Perhaps as many as 100 other huts are still buried in the four hectares surrounding La Priscione, and these will be excavated in the coming years. Many were probably homes.

Not far from the nuraghe is another tomb of the giants, bigger than the one we explored on Monday. The island is also dotted with these tombs, since all the villages had to have burial sites. The nuragic people dominated Sardegna until they were defeated by the Carthaginians around 500 BC and forced to take refuge in the mountainous interior. The Carthaginians were defeated in turn by the Romans, and Sardegna became a Roman province. The nuragic civilization still maintained a separate identity until around 200 AD.
This is another Nuragic village, Barumini, and it gives some idea of what archaeologists may find when they
finish excavating La Prisciona.

Once back in our room, I look up more information and find that these people have fascinated and baffled historians for many years. According to Massimo Pallottino, a scholar of Sardinian prehistory, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any civilization in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia.

It is surmised that the nuragic people were organized in clans led by a chief. Many bronze art figures have been found, and from these it is guessed that religion and warfare had a strong role in the society. They raised crops and animals and were fishermen and traders. Since Sardegna has remained relatively undeveloped in comparison with the rest of Italy, most of the nuraghe remain undisturbed. Only a handful of the 7,000-plus nuraghi have been scientifically excavated, so we can look forward to more of the mysteries about this ancient culture to be revealed in coming years.
Bronze figures reveal much about the once powerful Nuragic civilization, which had advanced armies and
boats that may have once dominated the Mediterranean.

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