Archaeological evidence of prehistoric human settlement on Sardinia island is present in the form of the nuraghe and others prehistoric monuments which dot the land. The recorded history of Sardinia begins with its contacts with the various people who sought to dominate western Mediterranean trade in Classical Antiquity: Phoenicians, and Romans.
In the Stone Age the island was inhabited by people who had arrived there in the Palaeolithic and Neolithic ages from several parts of Europe and the Mediterranean area.
Modern humans appeared in the island during the Upper Paleolithic, a phalanx dated to 18000 BC had been found in the Corbeddu cave near Oliena. From the earliest period, Sardinia has been in contact with extra-insular communities in Corsica, Liguria, Lombardy, and Provence.
Already in the Stone Age, Monte Arci played an important role. The old volcano was one of the central places where obsidian was found and worked for cutting tools and arrowheads. Towards the end of the fifth millennium BC an increased exportation of obsidian extended the cultural interaction to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Even now the volcanic glass can be found on the sides of the mountain.
The first people to settle in northern Sardinia during the Mesolithic probably came from the Italian mainland via Corsica, particularly from Etruria (present-day Tuscany); however in the Corbeddu Cave of Oliena there are evidences that suggest a previous Paleolithic colonization of the island. In the middle Neolithic period, the Ozieri culture, probably of Aegean origin, flourished in the island.
Initially under the political and economic alliance with the Phoenician cities, it was colonised and then conquered by Rome during the First Punic War (238 BC). After the island was included for centuries in the Roman province of Corsica et Sardinia, included in 3rd and 4th centuries in the Italia suburbicaria diocese.
In the Early Middle Ages, through barbarian movements, the waning of the Byzantine Empire influence in the western Mediterranean and the Saracen raids, the island fell out of the sphere of influence of any higher government. This led to the birth of several kingdoms called Giudicati in the 8th through 10th centuries.
Falling under papal influence, Sardinia became the focus of the rivalry of Genoa and Pisa, comuni and Signorie, the Giudicati and the Crown of Aragon, which subsumed the island as the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1324, which was to last until 1718 when it was acquired by the House of Savoy, which later, in 1861, became the Kingdom of Italy and finally in 1946 the Italian Republic.
Archeological cultures of Sardinia in the pre-Nuragic period:
- Cardium Pottery or Filiestru culture (6000−4000 BC)
- Bonu Ighinu culture (4000−3400 BC)
- San Ciriaco culture (3400−3200 BC)
- Ozieri culture (3200−2700 BC)
- Abealzu-Filigosa culture (2700−2400 BC)
- Monte Claro culture (2400−2100 BC)
- Bell Beaker culture (2100−1800 BC)
- Bonnanaro culture (A phase) (1800-1600 BC)
During the early Bronze Age, the so-called Beaker culture, coming from the Continent, appeared in Sardinia. These new people settled predominantly on the west coast where the most part of the sites attributed to them had been found.
Evidence of trade with Aegean (Eastern Mediterranean) centres is present in the period 1600 BC onwards. As time passed, the different Sardinian peoples appear to have become united in customs, yet remained divided politically as various small, tribal groupings, at times banding together, and at others waging war against each other. Habitations consisted of round thatched stone huts.
The Neolithic began in Sardinia in the 4th millennium BC with the Cardium Pottery Culture or Cardial Culture, or Impressed Ware Culture, which eventually extended from the Adriatic sea to the Atlantic coasts of Portugal and south to Morocco.
Cardium Pottery or Cardial Ware is a Neolithic decorative style that gets its name from the imprinting of the clay with the shell of the cockle, an edible marine mollusk, formerly Cardium edulis, now Cerastoderma edule. These forms of pottery are in turn used to define the Neolithic culture which produced and spread them, mostly commonly called the “Cardial Culture”.
The alternative name Impressed Ware is given by some archaeologists to define this culture, because impressions can be with sharp objects other than cockle shell, such as a nail or comb. Impressed pottery is much more widespread than the Cardial. Impressed Ware is found in the zone “covering Italy to the Ligurian coast” as distinct from the more western Cardial extending from Provence to western Portugal.
The sequence in Western Europe has traditionally been supposed to start with widespread Cardial Ware, and then to develop other methods of impression locally, termed “epi-Cardial”. However the widespread Cardial and Impressa pattern types overlap and are now considered more likely to be contemporary.
The earliest Impressed Ware sites, dating to 6400-6200 BC, are in Epirus and Corfu. Settlements then appear in Albania and Dalmatia on the eastern Adriatic coast dating to between 6100 and 5900 BC. The earliest date in Italy comes from Coppa Nevigata on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy, perhaps as early as 6000 cal BC.
Also during Su Carroppu civilization in Sardinia, already in its early stages (low strata into Su Coloru cave, c. 6000 BC) early examples of cardial pottery appear. Northward and westward all secure radiocarbon dates are identical to those for Iberia c. 5500 cal B.C., which indicates a rapid spread of Cardial and related cultures: 2,000 km from the gulf of Genoa to the estuary of the Mondego in probably no more than 100–200 years. This suggests a seafaring expansion by planting colonies along the coast.
Older Neolithic cultures existed already at this time in eastern Greece and Crete, apparently having arrived from the Levant, but they appear distinct from the Cardial or Impressed Ware culture. The ceramic tradition in the central Balkans also remained distinct from that along the Adriatic coastline in both style and manufacturing techniques for almost 1,000 years from the 6th millennium BC.
Early Neolithic impressed pottery is found in the Levant, and certain parts of Anatolia, including Mezraa-Teleilat, and in North Africa at Tunus-Redeyef, Tunisia. So the first Cardial settlers in the Adriatic may have come directly from the Levant. Of course it might equally well have come directly from North Africa, and impressed-pottery also appears in Egypt. Along the East Mediterranean coast Impressed Ware has been found in North Syria, Palestine and Lebanon.
Later, important cultures like the Ozieri culture of the late Neolithic and the Abealzu-Filigosa and Monte Claro culture of the Chalcolithic period, developed in the island contemporaneously with the appearance of the megalithic phenomenon.
From the third millennium BC on, comb-impressed Beaker ware, as well as other Beaker material in Ozieri or sub-Ozieri contexts, has been found, demonstrating continuing relationships with the western Mediterranean; it appears likely that Sardinia was the intermediary that brought Beaker materials to Tuscany and Sicily.
The most ancient settlements have been discovered both in Gallura and central Sardinia; later several cultures developed in the island, such as the Ozieri culture, a prehistoric pre-Nuragic culture that lived in Sardinia from c. 3200 to 2800 BC. The economy was based on agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and trading with the mainland.
The Ozieri culture (or San Michele culture, 3500-2700 BC) developed mighty megalithic walls that are limited to the northern area, suggesting unknown defensive demands that are the sign of the warlike state that can be noticed at the same time in the Mediterranean.
The Ozieri culture takes its name from the locality where the main findings connected with it have been found, the grotto of San Michele near Ozieri, in northern Sardinia. The influence of the culture extended also to the nearby Corsica.
The archaeological excavation held there in 1914 and 1949 found fine worked vases with geometrical motifs carved in the clay and colored with red ochre. The oldest ones were still rather crude, while the more recent examples were more refined and slender.
Such ceramics were a novelty for prehistoric Sardinia, since up to that point they had been considered typical of the Cyclades and Crete. The development of the Ozieri culture, therefore, probably stemmed from contacts with other eastern Mediterranean civilizations, in particular from the Neolithic Greece area.
Villages of the Ozieri culture which have been identified amount to some 200, located both in plain and mountain areas. They were formed by small stone huts, with a circular (rarely rectangular) wall supporting a wooden frame with a ceiling of boughs. One, near Mogoro, included 267 huts, perhaps also erected on poles driven into the ground. The pavements were composed of limestone slabs, of basalt cobbles or clay.
The villages had no walls, and findings of weapons in the tombs are scarce: the Ozieri civilization was thus perhaps a peaceful one, far different from the later Nuragic civilization.
The tombs were grouped in the hypogeous structures that later became known as domus de janas (Sardinian: “House of the Fairies” or of the “Witches”), a type of pre-historic chamber tombs found in Sardinia consisting of several chambers quarried out by the Ozieri and Beaker cultures, resembling houses in their layout, or, as more frequent in Gallura (regarding what is sometimes defined as Arzachena culture), in Megalithic circles. Some tombs, of more monumental appearance, belonged perhaps to chiefs, in the fashion of those in Crete.
Remains from this period include more than 2,400 hypogeum, or hypogaeum (plural hypogea), which literally means “underground”, from Greek hypo (under) and gaia (mother earth or goddess of earth), usually refering to an underground temple or tomb, tombs called Domus de Janas, the 4th millennium BC statue menhirs representing warriors or female figures, and the stepped pyramid of Monte d’Accoddi, near Sassari, which has some similarities with the monumental complex of Los Millares (Andalusia) and the later Talaiots in the Balearic Islands, an archipelago of Spain in the western Mediterranean Sea, near the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsul.
When Christian underground shrines, crypts and tombs that would be hypogea if the rites and burials were pagan, are called catacombs rather than hypogea, a mistaken discontinuity in sepulture practices is implied that is not borne out by the archeology and history. “Like other ambitious Romans, the bishop-saints of the third and fourth centuries were usually buried in hypogea in the cemeteries outside the walls of their cities; often it was only miracles at their tombs that caused their successors to adopt more up-to-date designs. In Dijon the saint and bishop Benignus (d. c. 274) was buried in a large sarcophagus in a chamber tomb in the Roman cemetery. By the sixth century the tomb had long since fallen into disrepair and was regarded as pagan, even by Bishop Gregory of Langres”, Werner Jacobsen has observed.
Hypogea will often contain niches for cremated human remains or loculi for buried remains.
Hypogeum can also simply refer to any antique building or part of building built below ground. There was a series of underground tunnels under the Colosseum where slaves and animals were kept ready to fight for the gladiatorial games. The animals and slaves would be let up through trapdoors under the sand-covered arena at any time during a fight. Occasionally tombs of this type are referred to as built tombs.
An early example of a hypogeum is found at the Minoan Bronze Age site of Knossos on Crete. Hogan notes this underground vault was of a beehive shape and cut into the soft rock. The Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum in Paola, Malta, is the oldest example of a prehistoric hypogeum, the earliest phase dating to 3600–3300 BC; it is a complex of underground chambers, halls and passages covering approximately 500 m2 on three levels, partly carved to imitate temple architecture and containing extensive prehistoric art. In Larnaka, Cyprus – the Lefkaritis Tomb was discovered in 1999. Other excavated structures, not used for ritual purposes, include the Greco-Roman cryptoporticus, and in other cultures the dugout, souterrain, yaodong and fogou.
The talaiots, or talayots, are Bronze Age megaliths on the islands of Minorca and Majorca forming part of the Talaiotic Culture or Talaiotic Period. They date from the late second millennium and early first millennium BC. There are at least 274 of them, in, near, or related to Talaiotic settlements and Talaiotic navetes. While some certainly had a defensive purpose, the purpose of others is not clearly understood. Some believe them to have served the purpose of lookout or signalling towers, as on Minorca, where they form a network. These monuments pre-date the taulas, which are usually found nearby. Similar but not necessarily related are the “nuraghes” of Sardinia, the “torri” of Corsica, and the “sesi” of Pantelleria.
According to some scholars, the similarity between this structure and Mesopotamian ones is due to cultural influxs coming from the Eastern Mediterranean. During this period copper objects and weapons also appeared in the island.
Built between 3400 and 2700 BC, more than 1000 of the rock-cut tombs, or domus de janas, are known on the island. They date to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. A necropolis of them at the site of Anghelu Ruju, near Alghero, consists of 38 tombs some carved with bulls’ heads. Another large site is that of Sant’Andrea Priu at Bonorva, including 18 chambers: during the late Roman and Byzantine dominations it was turned into a cave church. Other sites can be found at Pimentel, Sedini, Villaperuccio, Ittiri and Porto Torres.
The shape of grottoes can vary from that of a rounded hut with conical or triangular ceiling. The walls are often decorated with magical reliefs. The corpses, painted with red ochre like the tomb’s walls, were buried together with common life objects, jewels and tools. According to archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu, they were buried under shells of molluscs; according to other theories, they were left outside the tomb, being put inside only after they had reduced to a skeleton.
The altar of Monte d’Accoddi, the archaeological site of a megalithic structure, the oldest part are dated to around c. 4,000-3,650 BC., in northern Sardinia, Italy, located in the territory of Sassari near Porto Torres, fell out of use starting from c. 2000 BC, when the Beaker culture, which at the time was widespread in almost all western Europe, appeared in the island.
The Monte Claro culture (2500-2000 BC) reveals scratched ceramics and fortified enclosures that seem to anticipate a strategic conception of territory control which reached a highlight in the Nuragic Age (1600-900 BC). This tradition came to an end only around 900 BC by destruction and fire.
In some sites, material of the megalithic Monte Claro culture has been found in association with true Bell Beaker materials; elsewhere, Beaker material has been found stratigraphically above Monte Claro and at the end of the Chalcolithic period in association with the related Bronze Age Bonnanaro culture (1800-1600 BC), for which C-14 dates calibrate to ca. 2250 BC.
The religion of the Ozieri culture included the adoration of the Neolithic Mother goddess and of a Bull god, perhaps connected to fertility. Female statuettes similar to those of the Ozieri culture have been found in Malta.
The dolmens culture, around the end of the 3rd millennium BC, passed with other typical material aspects of western Europe (e.g. Bell Beaker) through by the Sardinian coast even in Sicily, and from there all over Mediterranean basin.
Pre-historic and Pre-nuragic monuments and constructions that characterise the Sardinian landscapes are the Domus de Janas (Sardinian: House of the Fairies, House of the Witches), the Statue menhir and the dolmens.
Remains from this period include more than 2,400 hypogeum tombs called Domus de Janas, the 4th millennium BC statue menhirs, a type of carved standing stone created during the later European Neolithic, representing warriors or female figures, and the stepped pyramid of Monte d’Accoddi, near Sassari, which has some similarities with the monumental complex of Los Millares (Andalusia) and the later Talaiots in the Balearic Islands. According to some scholars, the similarity between this structure and Mesopotamian ones is due to cultural influxs coming from the Eastern Mediterranean.
A statue menhir is a type of carved standing stone created during the later European Neolithic. The statues consist of a vertical slab or pillar with a stylised design of a human figure cut into it, sometimes with hints of clothing or weapons visible. They are most commonly found in south and west France, Catalonia, Corsica, Sardinia, Italy and the Alps. A group from the Iron Age also is known in Liguria and Lunigiana.
Kurgan stelae, or Balbals (supposedly from a Turkic word balbal meaning “ancestor” or “grandfather” or the Mongolic word “barimal” which means “handmade statue”) are anthropomorphic stone stelae, images cut from stone, installed atop, within or around kurgans (i.e. tumuli), in kurgan cemeteries, or in a double line extending from a kurgan. The stelae are also described as “obelisks” or “statue menhirs”.
Spanning more than three millennia, they are clearly the product of various cultures. The earliest are associated with the Pit Grave culture of the Pontic-Caspian steppe. There are Iron Age specimens are identified with the Scythians and medieval examples with Turkic peoples. Such stelae are found in large numbers in Southern Russia, Ukraine, Prussia, southern Siberia, Central Asia and Mongolia.
Anthropomorphic stelae were probably memorials to the honoured dead. They are found in the context of burials and funeral sanctuaries from the Eneolithic through to the Middle Ages. When used architecturally, stelae could act as a system of stone fences, frequently surrounded by a moat, with sacrificial hearths, sometimes tiled on the inside.
The earliest anthropomorphic stelae date to the 4th millennium BC, and are associated with the early Bronze Age Yamna Horizon, in particular with the Kemi Oba culture of the Crimea and adjacent steppe region. Those in Ukraine number around three hundred, most of them very crude stone slabs with a simple schematic protruding head and a few features such as eyes or breasts carved into the stone. Some twenty specimens, known as statue menhirs, are more complex, featuring ornaments, weapons, human or animal figures.
The introduction of bronze from the new people arriving from the mainland brought numerous improvements, such as in agriculture, in which more effective tools could be used, but also in war and hunting.
The successing chalcolithic (aneolithic) Filigosa-Abealzu culture (2700-2500 BC) followed the collapse of the great megalithic civilizations. A significant impulse given to metallurgy accompanied vascular production characterized by a disappearance of earlier St. Micheal (Ozieri) fanciful decoration in favor of blank soberly scribbled surfaces.
The Bell-Beaker culture (sometimes shortened to Beaker culture, Beaker people, or Beaker folk; German: Glockenbecherkultur), ca. 2800 – 1800 BC, is the term for a widely scattered ‘archaeological culture’ of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic and running into the early Bronze Age. The term was coined by John Abercromby, based on the culture’s distinctive pottery drinking vessels.
The Bell Beaker culture is understood not only as a particular pottery type, but as a complete and complex cultural phenomenon involving other artefact styles such as weaponry and ornamentation, as well as shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas.
The Bell Beaker period marks a period of unprecedented cultural contact in Atlantic and Western Europe on a scale not seen previously, nor again seen in succeeding periods. This contrasted the situation in Central and Eastern Europe where the slightly earlier Corded Ware Culture had already established wide-ranging contacts within those regions.
Its appearance is marked from 2900 BC, lasting until 1800 BC, when the incipient Bronze Age dissolved the beaker phenomenon.
It is important to note that underlying the Bell beaker superstratum existed a wide diversity in local burial styles (including incidences of cremation rather than inhumation), housing styles, economic profile and local coarse ceramic wares which continued to persist.
There are two main Bell Beaker styles: the cord-impressed types, such as the “All Over Corded” (AOC) or “All Over Ornamented” (AOO), and the “Maritime” type, decorated with bands filled with impressions made with a comb or cord. Later, characteristic regional styles developed.
It has been suggested that the beakers were designed for the consumption of alcohol, and that the introduction of the substance to Europe may have fuelled the beakers’ spread. Beer and mead content have been identified from certain examples. However, not all Beakers were drinking cups. Some were used as reduction pots to smelt copper ores, others have some organic residues associated with food, and still others were employed as funerary urns. They were used as status display amongst disparate elites.
Early papers publishing results on European-wide Y-DNA marker frequencies, such as those of Semino (2000) and Rosser (2000), correlated haplogroup R1b-M269 with the earliest episodes of European colonization by Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH).
The peak frequencies of M269 in Iberia (especially the Basque region) and the Atlantic façade were postulated to represent signatures of re-colonization of the European West following the Last Glacial Maximum. However, even prior to recent criticisms and refinements, the idea that Iberian R1b carrying males repopulated most of western Europe was not consistent with findings which revealed that Italian M269 lineages are not derivative of Iberian ones.
More recently, data and calculations from Myres (2011), Cruciani (2010), Arredi (2007) and Belaresque (2010) suggest a Late Neolithic entry of M269 into Europe.
These hypotheses appear to be corroborated by more direct evidence from ancient DNA. For example, Early Neolithic Y-DNA from Spain did not reveal any R1b, but rather E-V13 and G2a, whilst a similar study from a French pre-Beaker Neolithic site revealed haplgroup G2a and I-P37. It is only later, from a German Bell Beaker site dated to the third millennium BCE, that the first evidence for R1b is detected. Ancient Y-DNA results for the remains of Beaker people from Iberia have yet to be obtained.
Whilst Cruciani, Belaresque and Arredi support a spread of R1b from South-Eastern Europe, Klyosov (2012) postulates that “Western European” R1b-L150 entered Europe from Northern Africa, via Iberia, coincident with the spread of the Bell Beaker culture.
From a mitochondrial DNA perspective, haplogroup H, which has high (~ 40%) throughout Europe, has received similar attention. Early studies by Richards et al (2000) purported that it arose 28 – 23,000 years ago (kya), spreading into Europe ~ 20 kya, before then re-expanding from an Iberian glacial refuge ~ 15 kya, calculations subsequently corroborated by Pereira (2004). However, a larger study by Roostalu (2006), incorporating more data from the Near East, suggested that whilst Hg H did begin to expand c. 20 kya, this was limited to the Near East, Caucasus and Southeastern Europe. Rather its subsequent spread further west occurred later, in the post-glacial period from a postulated South Caucasian refugium. This hypothesis has been supported by a recent ancient DNA analysis study, which links the expansion of mtDNA Hg H in Western Europe with the Bell Beaker phenomenon.
Whilst such studies are insightful, even if the dates postulated by authors are correct, they do not necessarily imply that the spread of a particular genetic marker represents a distinct population, ‘tribe’ or language group. Authors often take for granted that the expansion of a lineage is related to real demography rather than other evolutionary events, such as random genetic drift or natural selection. Moreover, they overlook detailed analyses of the archaeological record which demonstrate the genesis of cultural phenomena representing multiple, complex lines of interaction criss-crossing far-flung regions rathern than simple ‘folk migrations’. As such, ‘genetic studies’ have often drawn criticisms not only from archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, but also from fellow population geneticists.
Bell Beaker has been suggested as a candidate for an early Indo-European culture; more specifically, an ancestral proto-Celtic. No evidence of other large-scale immigrations took place, and many scholars deny Celtic speech originated solely from La Tene culture, whose migrations started at about 400 BC. Instead, those scholars propose Celtic languages evolved gradually and simultaneously over a large area by way of a common heritage and close social, political and religious links. Although controversial, the theory fits (according to its proponents) the archeological evidence that provides little support for westward migrations of Celtic people matching the historically known movements south and west.
Like elsewhere in Europe and in the Mediterranean area, the Bell Beaker culture in Sardinia (2000-1800) is characterized by the typical ceramics decorated with overlaid horizontal bands and associated finds (brassards, V-pierced buttons etc.) There is virtually no evidence in Sardinia of external contacts in the late third and early second millennia, apart from late Beakers and close parallels between Bonnannaro pottery and that of the North Italian Polada culture.
The Bonnanaro culture (1800-1600 BC), named after the comune of Bonnanaro in the province of Sassari, considered as the first stadium of the Nuragic civilization, is a protohistoric culture that flourished in Sardinia during the 2nd millennium BC.
Bonnanaro finds have been unearthed in over 70 sites scattered in all Sardinian territory. The ceramics were smooth and linear with some reminiscences with those of the Beaker period. Metal objects increased and the first swords of arsenicated copper appeared.
It is still uncertain if the first “protonuraghi” or “pseudonuraghi” were built at this time or in the successive Sub-Bonnanaro culture (or Bonnanaro B) of the middle bronze age (1600-1330 BC) .
The Proto-Nuraghi were megalithic edifices which are considered the precursors of the future Nuraghi. The Proto-Nuraghi are horizontal building characterized by a long corridor with rooms and cells ; they represent an attempt to fortify the more traditional huts, in a period were tribal clashes, due to the introduction of the first sophisticated weapons, were becoming increasingly common.
Dating to the 2nd millennium BC, the nuraghe are megalithic towers with a truncated cone shape, which are widespread in the whole of Sardinia, about one nuraghe every three square kilometers. There has long been controversy among scholars. Theories about their utilization have included social, military, religious, astronomical role, as furnaces or sepulture places, but the modern agreement is that they were defensible homesites that included barns and silos.
Around 1500 BC, archaeological studies have proved the increasing size of the settlements built around these structures, which were often located at the summit of hills. Perhaps for protection reasons, new towers were added to the original ones, connected by walls provided with slits.
The imposing stone structures known as nuraghi (singular nuraghe) surely dominated the Bronze Age landscape of Sardinia. Although the remains of some 7,000 nuraghi have been found, up to 30,000 may have been built.
Classic nuraghi are truncated conical towers, about 40 feet in diameter, sloping up to a circular roof some 50 feet above the ground. Several courses of large, minimally dressed, dry-laid stone form the walls and usually an interior stairwell spirals up to the roof or to a second (and sometimes a third) story. A ground-level doorway, spanned by a large lintel, typically serves as an entrance. The ground-level chamber, which is generally less than 20 feet in diameter, contains one to three wall niches. The vaulted ceiling is 20 to 35 feet above the floor, perhaps accommodating raised wooden interior platforms or lofts to make use of the space.
Religion expressed itself around sacred wells, often in association to the megalithic nuraghe, most of them of Beaker signature. The earliest attested water cult site is that at Abini-Teti, where votive offerings dateable to the early Bonnanaro period have been found; votive offerings at the spring of Sos Malavidos-Orani date to later Bonnanaro. This tradition showed local continuity to historic times, as it was at such centers that the Romans found attacking the natives most efficient (Strabo 5.2.7).
The nuraghe (plural Italian nuraghi, Sardinian Logudorese nuraghes / Sardinian Campidanese nuraxis) is the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900-730 BC. Today it has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization.
The most important complex is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The highest and most imposing one is the Nuraghe Santu Antine near the village of Torralba. Other famous nuraghes are near Alghero (Palmavera), Macomer, Abbasanta (see Losa), Orroli (Nuraghe Arrubiu), and Villanovaforru.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the etymology is “uncertain and disputed”: “The word is perhaps related to the Sardinian place names Nurra, Nurri, Nurru, and to Sardinian nurra heap of stones, cavity in earth (although these senses are difficult to reconcile). A connection with the Semitic base of Arabic nūr light, fire … is now generally rejected.” The Latin word “murus” (wall) may be related to it (M. Pittau, philologist), as the old Italian word “mora” (tombal rock mound), as used by Dante in his “Comedy”. The derivation: murus-muraghe-nuraghe is debated.
The typical nuraghe is situated in areas where previous Prehistoric Sardinians Cultures had been distributed, that is not far from alluvial plains (though few nuraghi appear in plains nowadays, as they were destroyed by human activities such as agriculture, dams and others) and has the shape of a truncated conical tower resembling a medieval tower (outside) or a beehive (inside). The structure’s walls consist of three components: an outer layer (tilted inwards and made of many layers of stones whose size diminishes with height: mostly, lower layers consist of rubble masonry, while upper layers tend to ashlar masonry) shaped like a tower, an inner layer, made of smaller stones (to form a bullet shaped dome called “Tholos”: ashlar masonry is used here more frequently), an intermediate layer of very small pieces and dirt, which makes the whole construction very sturdy: it stands only by virtue of the weight of its stones, which may each amount to several tons. Some nuraghes are about 20 metres (60 ft) in height. A spiral stone stair was built within the thick walls, leading to upper floors (if present) and/or to a terrace.
Today, there are little less than 7,000 nuraghes still extant in Sardinia, although their number was somewhat larger, originally. Nuraghes are most prevalent in the northwest and south-central parts of the island.
There is a similar type of structure which has a corridor or a system of corridors. Some authors consider them somewhat older than the typical nuraghe and probably serving different purposes. The nuraghes were built between the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC) and the Late Bronze Age. This clearly rules out any possible cultural correlation with later towers such as Scottish Brochs and Israelian El Awhat. The only similar buildings related to nuraghes seem to be Corsican Towers.
According to Massimo Pallottino, a scholar of Sardinian prehistory and an Etruscologist, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any other in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia. Of the 7,000 extant nuraghes, only a few have been scientifically excavated. Many Nuragic Cultural traits and values were inherited by the Etruscans and by the Romans.
There is no consensus on the function of the nuraghes: they could have been religious temples, ordinary dwellings, rulers’ residences, military strongholds, meeting halls, or a combination of the former. Some of the nuraghes are, however, located in strategic locations – such as hills – from which important passages could be easily controlled. They might have been something between a “status symbol” and a “passive defence” building, meant to be a deterrent for possible enemies.
Nuraghes could also have been the “national” symbol of the Nuragic peoples. Small-scale models of nuraghe have often been excavated at religious sites (e.g. in the “maze” temple at the Su Romanzesu site near Bitti in central Sardinia). Nuraghes may have just connoted wealth or power, or they may have been an indication that a site had its owners. Recent unconfirmed theories tend to suggest that Sardinian towns were independent entities (such as the city-states, although in a geographical sense they were not cities) that formed federations and that the building of these monuments might have depended on agreed-on distributions of territory among federated unities.
In 2002, Juan Belmonte and Mauro Zedda measured the entrance orientations (declinations and azimuths) of 272 simple nuraghes and of the central towers of 180 complex ones. The data revealed clear peaks corresponding to orientations pointing to the sunrise at winter solstice and to the moon at its southernmost rising position. These alignments remained constant throughout the history of nuraghe. The most common declinations revealed were of around -43° for the earlier nuraghes, shifting to just -45½° for the later. Zedda has suggested that the target is likely a star, quite possibly Alpha Centauri.
It has been suggested that some of the current Sardinian villages trace their origin directly from Nuragic ones, including perhaps those containing the root Nur- in their name (Nurachi, Nuraminis, Nurri, Nurallao, Noragugume). The most famous among the numerous existing nuraghe, which have been included in the UNESCO Heritage List, are the Su Nuraxi at Barumini, Santu Antine at Torralba, Nuraghe Losa at Abbasanta, Palmavera (Alghero), Genna Maria at Villanovaforru, Santa Cristina at Paulilatino.
The Giants of Monte Prama are a group of 32 (or 40) statues with a height of up to 2.5 m, found in 1974 near Cabras, in the province of Oristano. They depict warriors, archers, wrestlers, models of nuraghe and boxers with shield and armed glove. They date to around the 10th-8th centuries BC.
They feature disc-shaped eyes and eastern-like garments. The statues probably depicted mythological heroes, guarding a sepulchre; according to another theory, they could be a sort of Pantheon of the typical Nuragic divinities.
Their finding proved that the Nuragic civilization had maintained its peculiarities, and introduced new ones across the centuries, well into the Phoenician colonization of most of Sardinia.
The Sacred Pits were structures destined to the cult of waters. Though initially assigned to the 8th-6th centuries BC, due to their evoluted buildings techniques, they most likely date to the earlier Bronze Age, when Sardinia had strong relationships with the Mycenaenan kingdoms of Greece and Crete.
The Nuragic Sacred Pits followed the same pattern of the nuraghe, the main part consisting of a circular room with a tholos vault with a hole at the summit. A monumental staircase connected the entrance to this subterranean (hypogeum) room, whose main role is to collect the water of the sacred spring. The exterior walls features stone benches on which were deposed the offers from the faithful and the religious objects. Some sites had also sacrifice altars: some scholars think that these architecture could be dedicated to Sardus, one of the main Nuragic divinities.
A sacred pit who resemble those of Sardinia had been found in western Bulgaria, near the village of Garlo.
The so-called “giant’s graves” were funerary structures whose precise function is still unknown, and which perhaps evolved from elongated dolmens. They date to the whole Nuragic era up to the Iron Age, and are more frequent in the central sector of the island. Their plan was in the shape of the head of a bull.
The Nuragic economy, at least at the origins, was mostly based on agriculture and animal husbandry, as well as on fishing. Navigation had an important role: historian Pierluigi Montalbano mentions the finding of at least 156 bronze naval models, some weighing 100 kg. This has suggested that the Nuragic people used efficient ships, which could perhaps reach lengths up to 15 meters. These allowed them to travel the whole Mediterranean, establishing commercial links with the Mycenaean civilization (attested by the common tholos tomb shape, and the adoration of bulls), Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Lebanon. Items such as Cyprus-type copper ingots have been found in Sardinia, while Nuragic ceramics have been found in Spain (Huelva, Tarragona, Malaga, Teruel and Cadiz) up to the Gibraltar strait, and in Etruscan centers of the Italian peninsula such as Vetulonia, Vulci and Populonia (known in the 9th-6th centuries from Nuragic statues found in their tombs).
Sardinia was rich in metals such as lead and copper. Archaeological findings have proven the good quality of Nuragic metallurgy, including numerous bronze weapons. The so-called “golden age” of the Nuragic civilization (mid-2nd millennium BC) coincided perhaps with the apex of the mining of metals in the island. Sardinian copper ingots have been found in Spain, France, Turkey and Greece. The widespread use of bronze, an alloy which used tin, a metal which however was not present in Sardinia if not in a single deposit, further proves the capability of the Nuragic people to trade in the resources they needed. A recent study (2013) of 71 ancient Swedish bronze objects dated to Nordic Bronze Age , revealed that most of copper utilized at that time in Scandinavia came from Sardinia and the Iberian peninsula.
Nuragic ceramics have been found in the Italian peninsula, in Sicily, Spain and Crete.
The Nuragic civilization was most likely based on clans. They were led by a chief and lived in villages with circular huts with a straw roof, very similar to the modern pinnettas of the Barbagia shepherds. Religion and military had a strong role in the society, which has led scholars to the hypothesis that the Nuragic civilization was a theocracy. An important role was that of mythological heroes such as Norax, Sardus, Iolaos and Aristeus, military leaders considered also as divinities.
The Nuraghe bronzes clearly portrays figures of chief-kings, recognizable from the presence of a staff with bosses and of a mantle. Also depicted are the other classes, including miners and artisans; numerous are the soldiers, which has led to think to a warring society, with a precise military hierarchy (archers, infantry, swordsmen, musicians, wrestlers and boxers, the latter similar to those of the Minoan civilizations). Different uniforms could belong to different cantons or clans, or to different military corps.
The priest role was perhaps fulfilled by women.
The small bronzes also gave clues on personal care and fashion. Women generally had long hair; men sported two long braids on each side of the face, while the head was shaved off, or covered by a leather cap.
The large stone sculptures known as betili (a kind of slender menhir, sometimes featuring crude depiction of male sexual organs, or of female breasts), and the representations of animals such as the bull, belong most likely to pre-Nuragic civilizations. The latter kept however its importance among the Nuraghe people, and was frequently depicted on ships, bronze vases used in religious rites and in the soldiers’ helmets. Small bronze sculptures depicting half-man, half-bull figures have been found, as well as characters with four arms and eyes and two-headed deers: they probably had a mythological and religious significance. Another holy animal which was frequently depicted is the dove.
A key element of the Nuragic religion was that of fertility, connected to the male power of the Bull-Sun and the female one of Water-Moon. According to the scholars’ studies, there existed a Mediterranean-type Mother Goddess and a God-Father (Babai). The excavations have proved that the Nuragic people, in determinate periods of the year, gathered in common holy places, usually characterized by sitting steps and the presence of a holy pit. In some holy areas, such as Gremanu at Fonni, Serra Orrios at Dorgali and S’Arcu ‘e is forros at Villagrande Strisaili, there were rectangular temples, with central holy room housing perhaps a holy fire.
The deities worshipped are unknown, but were perhaps connected to water, or to astronomical entities (Sun, Moon, solstices). Also having a religious role were perhaps the small chiseled discs, with geometrical patterns, known as pintadera, although their function has not been identified yet.
Some structures could have a “federal” Sardinian role, such as the sanctuary of Santa Vittoria near Serri, including both religious and civil buildings: here, according to Italian historian Giovanni Lilliu, the main clans of the central island held their assemblies to sign alliances, decide wars or to stipulate commercial agreements. Spaces for trades were also present. At least twenty of such multirole structures are known, including those of Santa Cristina at Paulilatino and of Siligo; some have been re-used as Christian temples (such as the cumbessias of San Salvatore in Sinis at Cabras).
The Bonnanaro culture brought new religious ideas and funerary rites and a new form of sepolture, the so-called “giants’ grave”, a derivate of the Allée couverte. The people who introduced these innovation in the island came probably by sea from southern France and Central Europe in various small waves.
Giants’ grave (Italian: Tomba dei giganti, Sardinian: Tumbas de sos zigantes) is the name given by local people and archaeologists to a type of Sardinian megalithic gallery grave, a form of Megalithic tomb where there is no size difference between the burial chamber itself and the entrance passage, built during the Bronze Age by the Nuragic civilization. They can be found throughout Sardinia, and so far 321 have been discovered.
A Gallery grave is a form of Megalithic tomb where there is no size difference between the burial chamber itself and the entrance passage. Two parallel walls of stone slabs were erected to form a corridor and covered with a line of capstones. The rectangular tomb was covered with a barrow or a cairn. Most were built during the fourth millennium BC, though some were still being built in the Bronze Age.
They are distributed across Europe and they are usually subdivided by period, region and also into more generic types of chambered long barrows, chambered round barrows, chambered long cairns and chambered round cairns. Examples are known in Catalonia, France, the Low Countries, Germany, The British Isles, Scandinavia, Sardinia and southern Italy.
A stone cairn lies over the burial chamber itself. Some examples have a cup-shaped entrance similar to the court cairn tombs of Ireland. There is also a structure similar to a block-type giants’ tomb on the island of Malta and in British Islands.
The court cairn or court tomb is a megalithic type of chamber tomb and gallery grave, specifically a variant of the chambered cairn, found in western and northern Ireland, and in mostly southwest Scotland (where it maybe also be called a horned cairn or Clyde-Carlingford tomb), around 4000–3500 BCE, but many remained in use until as late as the Bronze Age transition, c. 2200 BCE. They are generally considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably brought from Scotland to Ireland. In Scotland, they are most common in what today are Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway (where they form the Clyde-Carlingford group), though a small outlying group have been found near Perth.
Court tombs are rectangular burial chambers. They are distinguished by their roofless, oval forecourt at the entrance. Large slabs of rock were used to make the walls and roof of the very basic burial chamber, normally located at one end of the cairn, which although usually blocked after use could be immediately accessed from the outside courtyard. They are gallery graves rather than passage graves, since they lack any significant passage.
They usually had two functions: the chamber to serve as a tomb, and the courtyard to accommodate a ritual. Objects were often buried with the deceased, as the first megalithic farmers of this time believed in life after death.
There are two general types of giants’ tomb. In the so-called “slab type”, uncut slabs are buried on end in the ground, and are arranged side-by-side. There is usually a central stele, which is the largest (up to 4 m in height) slab and has a doorway cut through it. The sepulchres have a characteristic rectangular plan with an apse. The burial chamber is usually 5 to 15 metres long and 1 to 2 metres high. The structures were originally covered by a mound resembling the shape of an overturned ship. Near the entrance was an obelisk (betile in Sardinian), which symbolizes the gods or ancestors who watched over the dead.
In the more primitive slab-type giants’ tombs, the central slab is unmodified aside from the entrance that is cut through it at the base, or else there is a crude dolmen-like arrangement of 3 uncut rocks to form the entrance (Osono, Sortali, Lolghi, Pescaredda). In a more advanced slab-type giants’ tombs, the central slab is modified so as to be rounded on top, and has a simple design carved into the front surface (Dorgali, Goronna, Santu Bainzu, Coddu Vecchju).
The so-called “block type” is made of rectangular-cut blocks (Bidistili, Madau II, Seleni II, Iloi, Mura Cuata). There is also a structure similar to a block-type giants’ tomb on the island of Malta and in British Islands.
An obelisk (from Greek obeliskos, diminutive of obelos, “spit, nail, pointed pillar”) is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top. Like Egyptian pyramids, whose shape is thought to be representative of the descending rays of the sun, an obelisk is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon. Ancient obelisks were often monolithic, whereas most modern obelisks are made of several stones and can have interior spaces. The term stele (plural: stelae) is generally used for other monumental standing inscribed sculpted stones.
A beehive house is a building made from a circle of stones topped with a domed roof. The name comes from the similarity in shape to a straw beehive.
The ancient Bantu used this type of house, which was made with mud, poles, and cow dung.
Beehive houses are some of the oldest known structures in Ireland and Scotland. Dating from as far back as around 2000 BC and some were still being built as late as the 19th century in Puglia (Italy).
A beehive tomb, also known as a tholos tomb (plural tholoi) (Greek: “domed tombs”), is a burial structure characterized by its false dome created by the superposition of successively smaller rings of mudbricks or, more often, stones. The resulting structure resembles a beehive, hence the traditional English name.
Tholoi were used for burial in several cultures in the Mediterranean and West Asia, but in some cases they were used for different purposes such as homes (Cyprus), ritual (Syria), and even fortification (Spain, Sardinia). Although Max Mallowan used the same name for the circular houses belonging to the Neolithic culture of Tell Halaf (Iraq, Syria and Turkey), there is no relationship between them.
In Greece, the vaulted tholoi are a monumental Late Bronze Age development. Their origin is a matter of considerable debate: were they inspired by the tholoi of Crete which were first used in the Early Minoan period or were they a natural development of tumulus burials dating to the Middle Bronze Age? In concept, they are similar to the much more numerous Mycenaean chamber tombs which seem to have emerged at about the same time. Both have chamber, doorway stomion and entrance passage dromos but tholoi are largely built while chamber tombs are rock-cut.
A few early examples of tholoi have been found in Messenia in the SW Peloponnese Greece (for example at Voidhokoilia), and recently near Troezen in the NE Peloponnese. These tholoi are built on level ground and then enclosed by a mound of earth. A pair of tumuli at Marathon, Greece indicate how a built rectangular (but unvaulted) central chamber was extended with an entrance passage.
After about 1500 BCE, beehive tombs became more widespread and are found in every part of the Mycenaean heartland. In contrast, however, to the early examples these are almost always cut into the slope of a hillside so that only the upper third of the vaulted chamber was above ground level. This masonry was then concealed with a relatively small mound of earth.
The tombs usually contain more than one burial, in various places in the tomb either on the floor, in pits and cists or on stone-built or rock-cut benches, and with various grave goods. After a burial, the entrance to the tomb was filled in with soil, leaving a small mound with most of the tomb underground.
The chamber is always built in masonry, even in the earliest examples, as is the stomion or entrance-way. The dromos in early examples was usually just cut from the bedrock, as in the Panagia Tomb at Mycenae itself. In later examples such as the Treasury of Atreus and Tomb of Clytemnestra (both at Mycenae), all three parts were constructed of fine ashlar masonry.
The chambers were built as corbelled vaults, with layers of stone placed closer together as the vault tapers toward the top of the tomb.
The entrances provided an opportunity for conspicuous demonstration of wealth. That of the Treasury of Atreus, for example, was decorated with columns of red and green “Lapis Lacedaimonius” brought from quarries over 100 km away.
The abundance of such tombs, often with more than one being associated with a settlement during one specific time period, may indicate that their use was not confined to the ruling monarchy only, although the sheer size and therefore the outlay required for the larger tombs (ranging from about 10 meters to about 15 meters in diameter and height) would argue in favour of royal commissions. The larger tombs contained amongst the richest finds to have come from the Late Bronze Age of Mainland Greece, despite the tombs having been pillaged both in antiquity and more recently.
Although the Vapheio tholos, south of Sparta, had been robbed, two cists in the floor had escaped notice. These contained, among other valuable items, the two gold “Vapheio cups” decorated with scenes of bull taming which are among the best known of Mycenaean treasures.
Circular structures were commonly built in the Near East, including the examples known as tholoi found in the Neolithic Halaf culture of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They were probably used as both houses and as storage structures, but ritual use may also have occurred. Other, later examples are found in Cyprus (Khirokitia), where they were used as homes. There is no clear connection between these domestic, circular buildings and later tholos tombs.
In the Chalcolithic period of the Iberian peninsula, beehive tombs appear among other innovative “megalithic” variants, since c. 3000 BCE. They are especially common in southern Spain and Portugal, while in Central Portugal and southeastern France other styles (artificial caves especially) are preferred instead. The civilization of Los Millares and its Bronze Age successor, El Argar, are particularly related to this burial style.
The Bronze Age fortifications known as motillas in La Mancha (Spain) also use the tholos building technique.
The imposing stone structures known as nuraghi as well as the similar structures of southern Corsica, dominated the Bronze Age landscape of Sardinia (Italy). Nuraghi are truncated conical towers of dry-laid stone, about 40 feet in diameter, sloping up to a circular roof some 50 feet above the ground. The vaulted ceiling is 20 to 35 feet above the floor. Although the remains of some 7,000 nuraghi have been found, up to 30,000 may have been built.
There are also recorded Etruscan tombs at a necropolis at Banditaccia from the 6th and 7th Centuries BCE having an external appearance similar to a beehive. The interiors are decorated and furnished as Etruscan dwellings.
The beehive Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak is an example of the richly decorated tholoi tombs of Thracian rulers, many of which are found in modern Bulgaria and date from the 4th-3rd century BC. The walls of the Kazanlak tomb are covered with plaster and stucco, with ornate scenes from the life of the deceased. Other tumuli, known as mogili in Bulgarian, that feature underground chambers in the form of a beehive dome include, among others, the Thracian tomb of Aleksandrovo, Golyama Arsenalka, Thracian tomb of Seuthes III. There have been several significant gold and silver treasures associated with Thracian tombs currently kept at Bulgaria’s Archaeological and National History Museums and other institutions.
The earliest stone-built tombs which can be called “beehive” are in Oman, built of stacked flat stones which occur in nearby geological formations. They date to between 3,500 and 2,500 years BCE, to a period when the Arabian peninsula was subject to much more rainfall than now, and supported a flourishing civilisation in what is now desert, to the west of the mountain range along the Gulf of Oman. No burial remains have ever been retrieved from these “tombs”, though there seems no other purpose for their building. They have only superficial similarities with the Aegean tombs (circular shape) as they are built entirely above ground level and do not share the same tripartite structure – the entrances are usually an undifferentiated part of the circular walling of the tomb.
Currently there are three areas where these tombs can be found: Al Hajar Region, Hat Region, and Hadbin area close to Barka. The Hajar tombs are very numerous and one or two have been restored, allowing you to crawl into the centre of a 5-6m tall stone structure.
The Bonnanaro culture is the last evolution of the Beaker culture in Sardinia, and shows several similarities with the Bronze-Age Polada culture of northern Italy. These have been connected to link with the Italian prehistoric settlements through Corsica. To this period date the construction of the platformlike so-called proto-nuraghe.
The Bonnanaro culture had been described by scholars as the Sardinian regionalization of the pan-European Bell Beaker culture with some influences from the Polada culture (14th-13th century BC) of northern Italy, a culture of the ancient Bronze Age which spread on all of the territory of Northern Italy and characterized by settlements on pile-dwellings.
Terramare is a technology complex mainly of the central Po valley, in Emilia, northern Italy, dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Age ca. 1700–1150 BC. It takes its name from the “black earth” residue of settlement mounds. Terramare is from terra marna, “marl-earth”, where marl is a lacustrine deposit. It may be any color but in agricultural lands it is most typically black, giving rise to the “black earth” identification of it. The population of the terramare sites is called the terramaricoli. The sites were excavated exhaustively in 1860–1910.
These sites prior to the second half of the 19th century were commonly believed to have been used for Gallic and Roman sepulchral rites. They were called terramare and marnier by the farmers of the region, who mined the soil for fertilizer. Scientific study began with Bartolomeo Gastaldi in 1860. He was investigating peat bogs and old lake sites in north Italy but did some investigations of the marnier, recognizing them finally as habitation, not funerary, sites similar to the pile dwellings further north.
His studies attracted the attention of Pellegrino Strobel and his 18-year-old assistant, Luigi Pigorini. In 1862 they wrote a piece concerning the Castione di Marchesi in Parma, a terramare site. They were the first to perceive that the settlements were prehistoric. Starting from the views of Gaetano Chierici that the pile dwellings further north represented a Roman ancestral population, Pigorini developed a theory of Indo-European settlement of Italy from the north.
Great differences of opinion have arisen as to the origin and ethnographical relations of the Terramare folk. Brizio in his Epoca Preistorica advances the theory that they were the original Ligurians, an ancient Indo-European people who gave their name to Liguria, a region of north-western Italy, who at some early period took to erecting pile dwellings.
Why they should have done so is difficult to see. Some of the Terramare are clearly not built with a view to avoiding inundation, inasmuch as they stand upon hills. The rampart and the moat are for defence against enemies, not against floods, and as Brizio brings in no new invading people till long after the Terramare period, it is difficult to see why the Ligurians should have abandoned their unprotected hut-settlements and taken to elaborate fortification.
There are other difficulties of a similar character. Hence Luigi Pigorini regards the Terramare people as a lake-dwelling people who invaded the north of Italy in two waves from Central Europe (the Danube valley) at the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age, bringing with them the building tradition which led them to erect pile dwellings on dry land, as well as Indo-European languages.
These people he calls the Italici, to whom he attributes the Villanovan culture, the earliest Iron Age culture of central and northern Italy, abruptly following the Bronze Age Terramare culture and giving way in the 7th century BC to an increasingly orientalizing culture influenced by Greek traders, which was followed without a severe break by the Etruscan civilization.
These cultural traces may not be directly equivalent to a widespread ethnic culture that identified itself as the equivalent of “Villanovan”, Renato Peroni has suggested; they tend to underlie those of both Celtic and Italic provenance, adding to the difficulties in assessing who “founded” the culture. Many archeologists consider that Villanovans belonged to the indigenous population. However, there is a common view that they might be identified as the Proto-Etruscans.
The expansion of the Urnfield/Halstatt culture to Italy is evident in the form of the Villanovan culture (c. 1100-700 BCE), which shared striking resemblances with the Urnfield/Hallstatt sites of Bavaria and Upper Austria.
The Villanova culture marks a clean break with the previous Terramare culture. Although both cultures practised cremation, whereas Terramare people placed cremated remains in communal ossuaries like their Neolithic ancestors, Villanovans used distinctive Urnfield-style double-cone shaped funerary urns, and elite graves containing jewellery, bronze armour and horse harness fittings were separated from ordinary graves, showing for the first time the development of a highly hierarchical society, so characteristic of Indo-European cultures. Quintessential Indo-European decorations, such as swastikas, also make their appearance.
Originally a Bronze-age culture, the Villanova culture introduced iron working to the Italian peninsula around the same time as it appeared in the Hallstatt culture, further reinforcing the link between the two cultures. In all likelihood, the spread of the Villanova culture represents the Italic colonisation of the Italian peninsula. The highest proportion of R1b-S28 is found precisely where the Villanovans were the more strongly established, around modern Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.
The Villanova culture was succeeded by the Etruscan civilisation, which displayed both signs of continuity with Villanova and new hybrid elements of West Asian origins, probably brought by Anatolian settlers (who would have belonged to a blend of haplogroups E1b1b, G2a, J1, and J2).
The Nuragic civilization was a civilization of Sardinia, lasting from the Bronze Age (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD. The name derives from its most characteristic monuments, the nuraghe. They consist of tower-fortresses, built starting from about 1800 BC. Today some 7,000 nuraghi dot the Sardinian landscape.
The cyclopean nuraghes, the main type of ancient megalithic edifice found in Sardinia, developed during the Nuragic Age between 1900-730 BC., has come to be the symbol of Sardinia and its distinctive culture, the Nuragic civilization.
The cyclopean nuraghes has more or less related cousins like the Mycenaean tholoi, the Corsican Torre, the Talaiots of the Balearic Isles, the Sesi of Sicily, and more (the probably much later Brochs of Scotland are mentioned as well): All these architectural forms have their origins from a common cultural matrix widespread in the Mediterranean, but in Sardinia there was an original and grandiose development that has not be found elsewhere.
It is still uncertain if the first “protonuraghi” or “pseudonuraghi” were built at this time or in the successive Sub-Bonnanaro culture (or Bonnanaro B) of the middle bronze age (1600-1330 BC) .
The Proto-Nuraghi were megalithic edifices which are considered the precursors of the future Nuraghi. The Proto-Nuraghi are horizontal building characterized by a long corridor with rooms and cells ; they represent an attempt to fortify the more traditional huts, in a period were tribal clashes, due to the introduction of the first sophisticated weapons, were becoming increasingly common.
Soon Sardinia, a land rich in mines, notably copper and lead, saw the construction of numerous furnaces for the production of alloys which were traded across the Mediterranean basin and nuragic people became skilled metal workers; they were among the main metal producers in Europe and with bronze they produced a wide variety of objects and new weapons as swords, daggers, axes, and after drills, pins, rings, bracelets, typical bronze statuettes, and the votive bronze boats show a close relationship with the sea.
Tin may have drawn Bronze Age traders from the Aegean where copper is available but tin for bronze-making is scarce; The first verifiable smelting slag has come to light; its appearance in a hoard of ancient tin confirms local smelting as well as casting.
The usually cited tin sources and trade in ancient times are those in the Iberian Peninsula or from Cornwall. Markets included civilizations living in regions with poor metal resources, such as the Mycenaean civilization, Cyprus and Crete, as well as the Iberian peninsula, a fact that can explain the cultural similarities between them and the Nuraghe civilization and the presence in Nuragic sites of late Bronze Age Mycenaean, west and central Cretan and Cypriote ceramics, as well as locally made replicas, concentrated in half a dozen findspots that seem to have functioned as “gateway-communities.
By the 15th century, international trade returned, making Sardinia an integral part of a commercial network that extended from the Near East to Northwestern Europe, the principal eastern component of this network being Cyprus. Also contacts with the Mycenaean world were established.
Indigenous Sardinians appear in the Eastern Mediterranean as Sherden, one of the main tribes of the Sea Peoples, and are supposed to be the carriers of some of the eastern material found on the island.
The late Bronze Age (15th-13th centuries BC) saw a vast migration of the so-called sea people, described in ancient Egyptian sources. They destroyed Mycenaean and Hittite sites and also attacked Egypt. According to some scholars the Sherden, one of the most important tribes of the sea peoples, are to be identified with the Nuragic Sardinians.
Sardinian (Logudorese: sardu/saldu, limba sarda Campidanese: sardu/sadru, lingua sarda) is a Romance language spoken on most of the island of Sardinia (Italy). It is the most conservative of the Romance languages in terms of phonology and is noted for a Paleosardinian substratum.
Since 1997, the languages of Sardinia have been protected by regional and national laws. Several written standards, including the Limba Sarda Comuna (Common Sardinian Language), have been created in an attempt to unify the two main variants of the language. This standard is co-official with Italian where spoken on Sardinia.
The history of the island of Sardinia, relatively isolated from the European continent up into modern times, led to the development of a distinct Romance language, which even now preserves traces of the indigenous pre-Roman language of the island. The language is of Latin origin like all Romance languages yet the following substratal influences are possible: Nuragic, Etruscan, Basque and Illyrian. Adstratal influences include: Catalan, Spanish and Italian.
Sassari’s Republic medieval statutes written in the Sardinian language (13th–14th centuries)
The early origins of the Sardinian language (sometimes called Paleo-Sardinian) are still obscure, due mostly to the lack of documents, as Sardinian appeared as a written form only in the Middle Ages. There are substantial differences between the many theories about the development of Sardinian.
Many studies have attempted to discover the origin of some obscure roots that today could legitimately be defined as indigenous, pre-Romance roots. First of all, the root of sard, present in many toponyms and distinctive of the ethnic group, is supposed to have come from the Sherden, one of the so-called Peoples of the Sea.
Massimo Pittau claimed in 1984 to have found in the Etruscan language the etymology of many other Latin words, after comparison with the Nuragic language. If true, one could conclude that, having evidence of a deep influence of Etruscan culture in Sardinia, the island could have directly received from Etruscan many elements that are instead usually considered to be of Latin origin. Pittau then indicates that both the Etruscan and Nuragic languages are descended from the Lydian language, both therefore being Indo-European languages, as a consequence of the alleged provenance of Etruscans/Tyrrhenians from that land (as in Herodotus), where effectively the capital town was Sardis. Pittau also suggests, as a historical point, that the Tirrenii landed in Sardinia, whereas the Etruscans landed in modern-day Tuscany. Massimo Pittau’s views however are not representative of most Etruscologists.
It has been said that Paleosardinian should be expected to have notable similarities with Iberic languages and the Siculian language: the suffix -‘ara, for example, in proparoxytones (Bertoldi and Terracini proposed it indicated plural forms). The same would happen (according to Terracini) for suffixes in -/àna/, -/ànna/, -/énna/, -/ònna/ + /r/ + paragogic vowel (as in the toponym Bonnànnaro). Rohlfs, Butler and Craddock add the suffix -/ini/ (as in the toponym Barùmini) as a peculiar element of Paleosardinian. At the same time, suffixes in /a, e, o, u/ + -rr- seem to find a correspondence in northern Africa (Terracini), in Iberia (Blasco Ferrer), in southern Italy and in Gascony (Rohlfs), with some closer relation to Basque (Wagner, Hubschmid). However, these early links proposing a link to a precursor of modern Basque have been discredited by most Basque linguists. Suffixes in -/ài/, -/éi/, -/òi/, and -/ùi/ are common to Paleosardinian and northern African languages (Terracini). Pittau underlined that this concerns terms originally ending in an accented vowel, with an attached paragogic vowel; the suffix resisted Latinization in some toponyms, which show a Latin body and a Nuragic desinence. On this point, some toponyms ending in -/ài/ and in -/asài/ were thought to show Anatolic influence (Bertoldi). The suffix -/aiko/, widely used in Iberia, and perhaps of Celtic origins, as well as the ethnical suffix in -/itanos/ and -/etanos/ (as in the Sardinian Sulcitanos) have been noted as other Paleosardinian elements (viz Terracini, Ribezzo, Wagner, Hubschmid, Faust, et al.).
Linguists like Blasco Ferrer (2009, 2010) or Morvan (2009) have recently attempted to revive the theory of a Basque connection by linking modern surface forms such as Sardinian ospile “fresh natural cover for cattle” and Basque ozpil “id.”, Sardinian arrotzeri “vagabond” and Basque arrotz “stranger”, Sardinian arru “stone, stony” and Basque arri “stone”, Gallurese (South Corsican and North Sardinian) zerru “pig” and Basque zerri “id.”. Of interest, and in support to this theory, genetic data on the distribution of HLA antigens have suggested a common origin for Basque and Sardinian people.
The Sherden (also known as Serden or Shardana) are one of several groups of “Sea Peoples” who appear in fragmentary historical records (Egyptian inscriptions) for the Mediterranean region in the second millennium B.C.; little is known about them. On reliefs they are shown carrying a round shield and a long thrusting Naue II type sword. They are shown wearing a complicated armour corselet of overlapping bands of either leather or metal, and a horned helmet surmounted with a balled spike at the top.
At Medinet Habu the corselet appears similar to that worn by the Philistines and is similar, though not identical, to that found in tomb 12 at Dendra where Mycenaean IIB-IIIA pottery dates it to the second half of the fifteenth century BCE. The Sherden sword, it has been suggested by archaeologists since James Henry Breasted, may have developed from an enlargement of European daggers, and been associated with the exploitation of Bohemian tin. Robert Drews has recently suggested that use of this weapon amongst groups of Sharden and Philistine mercenaries made them capable of withstanding attacks by chariotry, making them valuable allies in warfare.
The earliest mention of the people called Srdn-w, more usually called Sherden or Shardana, occurs in the Amarna Letters correspondence of Rib-Hadda, of Byblos, to Pharaoh Akhenaten, at about 1350 BCE. At this time, they already appear as sea raiders and mercenaries, prepared to offer their services to local employers.
Ramesses II (ruled 1279-1213 BCE) defeated them in his second year (1278 BCE) when they attempted to raid Egypt’s coast, together with the Lukka (L’kkw, possibly the later Lycians) and the Šqrsšw (Shekelesh), in a sea battle off the Mediterranean coast. The pharaoh subsequently incorporated many of these warriors into his personal guard. An inscription by Ramesses II on a stele from Tanis which recorded the Sherden pirates’ raid and subsequent defeat, speaks of the constant threat which they posed to Egypt’s Mediterranean coasts: the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them.
After Ramesses II succeeded in defeating the invaders and capturing some of them, Sherden captives are depicted in this Pharaoh’s bodyguard, where they are conspicuous by their helmets with horns with a ball projecting from the middle, their round shields and the great Naue II swords, with which they are depicted in inscriptions of the Battle with the Hittites at Kadesh. Ramesses tells us, in his Kadesh inscriptions, that he incorporated some of the Sherden into his own personal guard at the Battle of Kadesh. Little more than a century later, many Sherden are found cultivating plots of their own; these are doubtless rewards given to them for their military services. There is also evidence of Sherden at Beth Shean, the Egyptian garrison in Canaan.
Michael Wood suggests that the Sherden were an important part of the bands of pirates that disrupted Aegean trade in the end of the 13th century BCE, and that their raids contributed greatly to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization.
Archaeologist Adam Zertal suggests that some Sherden settled in what is now northern Israel. He hypothesizes that Biblical Sisera was a Sherden general and that the archaeological site at el-Ahwat (whose architecture resembles Nuraghe sites in Sardinia) was Sisera’s capital, Harosheth Haggoyim.
No mention of the Sherden has ever been found in Hittite or Greek legends or documents, suggesting that they did not originate from either sphere of influence. The theory that these people came from the Western Mediterranean, suggested by some who draw attention to the etymological connections between Sherden and Sardinia, Shekelesh with Sicily, and Trs-w (Teresh or Tursci) with Etruscans, is not archaeologically satisfactory, and there is evidence that these people arrived in the areas in which they lived after the period of Ramesses III, rather than before. Archaeologist Margaret Guido concludes the evidence for the Sherden, Shekelesh or Teresh coming from the western Mediterranean is flimsy.
Guido suggests that the Sherden may ultimately derive from Ionia, in the central west coast of Anatolia, in the region of Hermos, east of the island of Chios. It is suggested that Sardis, and the Sardinian plain nearby, may preserve a cultural memory of their name. Until recently it was assumed that Sardis was only settled in the period after the Anatolian and Aegean Dark Age, but American excavations have shown the place was settled in the Bronze Age and was a site of a significant population. If this is so, the Sherden, pushed by Hittite expansionism of the Late Bronze Age and prompted by the famine that affected this region at the same time, may have been pushed to the Aegean islands, where shortage of space led them to seek adventure and expansion overseas. It is suggested that from here they may have later migrated to Sardinia. Guido suggests that if a “few dominating leaders arrived as heroes only a few centuries before Phoenician trading posts were established, several features of Sardinian prehistory might be explained as innovations introduced by them: oriental types of armour, and fighting perpetuated in the bronze representation of warriors several centuries later; the arrival of the Cypriot copper ingots of the Serra Ilixi type; the sudden advance in and inventiveness of design of the Sardinian nuraghes themselves at about the turn of the first Millennium; the introduction of certain religious practices such as the worship of water in sacred wells – if this fact was not introduced by the Phoenician settlers”.
However, weapons and armour similar to those of the Sherden are found in Sardinia dating only to several centuries after the period of the Sea Peoples. If the theory that the Sherden moved to Sardinia only after their defeat by Ramesses III is true, then it could be inferred from this that the finds in Sardinia are survivals of earlier types of weapons and armour. On the other hand, if the Sherden only moved into the Western Mediterranean in the ninth century, associated perhaps with the movement of early Etruscans and even Phoenician seafaring peoples into the Western Mediterranean at that time, it would remain unknown where they were located between the period of the Sea Peoples and their eventual appearance as the Nuragic civilization of Sardinia.
These theoretical coincidences (enforced, as said, by linguistic considerations) could allow to suppose that a people of skilled sailors left the Eastern Mediterranean and established themselves in Sardinia. They very probably would have encountered some resistance on their way there. It is also possible that they were explorers. If so, it is likely that only a warrior people like the Sherden could have organised such an expedition.
Another hypothesis is that they arrived to the island around the 13th-12th century after the failed invasion of Egypt. However, these theories remain controversial. A lost work by Simonides of Ceos reported by Zenobius, spoke of raids by Sardinians against the island of Crete, in the same period in which the Sea People invaded Egypt. This would at least confirm that Nuragic Sardinians frequented the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Further proofs come from 13th century Nuragic ceramics found at Tiryns and in the Agrigento area in Sicily, along the sea route linking western to eastern Mediterranean.
Recently the archaeologist Adam Zertal, echoing the theory already presented in 2005 by Leonardo Melis, has proposed that the Harosheth Haggoyim of Israel, home of the biblical figure Sisera, is identifiable with the site of “El-Ahwat” and that it was a Nuragic site suggesting that he came from the people of the Sherden of Sardinia.
In ancient times, Greek historians and geographers tried to solve the mystery of the nuraghe and their builders. They described the presence of fabulous edifices, called daidaleia, from the name of Daedalus, who, after building his labyrinth in Crete, would have moved to Sicily and then to Sardinia. Diodorus Siculus asserts that Sardinia would have been populated by Heracles, who sent here a colony of his children led by nephew Iolaus. He also speaks of the Ilienses tribe, who were repeatedly fought by the Carthaginians and the Romans, but in vain.
Around 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia.
The Roman historian Justin describes a Carthaginian expedition led by Malco in 540 BC against a still strongly Nuragic Sardinia. The expedition failed and this caused a political revolution in Carthage, from which Mago emerged. He launched another expedition against the island, in 509 BC, after the Sardinians attacked the Phoenicians coastal cities held by the enemy. The Carthaginians, after a number of military campaigns in which Mago died and was replaced by his brother Hamilcar, overcame the Sardinians and conquered the coastal Sardinia, the Iglesiente with its mines and the southern plains. The Nuragic civilization survived in the mountainous mainland of the island.
Circa 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency, presumably initially needing safe over-night and/or all-weather anchorages along their trade routes from the coast of modern-day Lebanon as far afield as the African and European Atlantic coasts and beyond. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia.
While the Phoenicians stuck to the coastline, their relationship with the Sardinians was peaceful. However, after a few hundred years of habitation, they began expanding inward. They took over valuable natural resources such as silver and lead mines, and established a military presence in the form of a fortress on Monte Sira in 650 BC. The Sardinians resented these intrusions, and in 509 BC they mounted a series of attacks against Phoenician settlements. The Phoenician settlers called upon Carthage for help, and when it arrived they successfully took control of part of the southern part of the island.
In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the first Punic War, surrendered Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, and together they became a Roman province. The Greek geographer Strabo confirms the survival of the Nuragic civilization in Roman times.
The existing coastal cities were enlarged and embellished, while Coloniae such as Turris Lybissonis and Feronia were founded. These were populated by Roman immigrants. The Roman military occupation brought the Nuragic civilization to an end. Roman domination of Sardinia lasted 694 years, during which it was an important source of grain for the capital. Latin came to be the dominant spoken language of Sardinia during this period, though Roman culture was slower to take hold, and Roman rule was often contested by the inhabitants of Sardinia’s mountainous central regions.
Throughout the second millennium and in the first part of the first millennium BC, Sardinia was inhabited by the single extensive and uniform cultural group represented by the Nuragic people.
Centuries later, Roman sources describe the island as inhabited by numerous ethnic groups which had gradually merged culturally. They however maintained a political identity, and were often warring each other for the control of the most valuable territories. Tribes mentioned include the Iolei or Ilienses, the Balares, the Corsi and the Civitatas Barbarie, the latter living in what is now Barbagia and defying the Romanization process.
The east Germanic tribe of the Vandals conquered Sardinia in 456. Their rule lasted for 78 years up to 534, when eastern Roman troops under Cyrillus retook the island. It is known that the Vandal government continued the forms of the existing Roman Imperial structure. The governor of Sardinia continued to be called the praeses and apparently continued to manage military, judicial, and civil governmental functions via imperial procedures. (This continuity was not novel to Sardinia; like the Visigoths, the Vandals generally maintained the pretense of the empire, nominally acknowledging Constantinople and declaring themselves its deputies.) The only Vandal governor of Sardinia about whom there is substantial record is the last, Godas, a Visigoth noble. In AD 530 a coup d’état in Carthage removed King Hilderic, a convert to Nicene Christianity, in favor of his cousin Gelimer, an Arian Christian like most of his kingdom. Godas was sent to take charge and ensure the loyalty of Sardinia. He did the exact opposite, declaring the island’s independence from Carthage and opening negotiations with Emperor Justinian I, who had declared war on Hilderic’s behalf. In AD 533 Gelimer sent the bulk of his army to Sardinia to subdue Godas, with the catastrophic result that the Vandal Kingdom was overwhelmed when Justinian’s own army under Belisarius arrived in their absence. The Vandal Kingdom ended and Sardinia was returned to Byzantine rule.
In AD 533 Sardinia returned under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire (in this period sometimes referred to as the Byzantine Empire) when the Vandals were defeated by the armies of Justinian I under the General Belisarius in the Battle of Tricamarum, in their African kingdom; Belisarius sent his general Cyrillus to Sardinia to retake the island. Sardinia remained in Byzantine hands for the next 300 years., aside from a short period in which it was invaded by the Ostrogoths in 551.
Under Byzantine rule, the island was divided into districts called merèie, which were governed by a judge residing in Caralis (Cagliari) and garrisoned by an army stationed in Forum Traiani (today Fordongianus) under the command of a dux. During this time, Christianity took deeper root on the island, supplanting the Paganism which had survived into the early Medieval era in the culturally conservative hinterlands. Along with lay Christianity, the followers of monastic figures such as St. Basil became established in Sardinia. While Christianity penetrated the majority of the population, the region of Barbagia remained largely pagan. In Barbagia towards the end of the 6th century, a short-lived independent principality established itself, returning to the local traditional religions. One of its princes, Ospitone, conducted raids upon the neighbouring Christian communities controlled by the Byzantine dux Zabarda. He was later reprimanded by Pope Gregory I within a letter for “Living, all like irrational animals, ignorant of the true God and worshiping wood and stone” In 594. Ospitone was then convinced by Gregory the Great, to convert to Christianity after receiving the papal letter. His followers, however, were not immediately convinced and ostracised their prince for a short time before they themselves converted.
The dates and circumstances of the end of Byzantine rule in Sardinia are not known. Direct central control was maintained at least through c. 650, after which local legates were empowered in the face of the rebellion of Gregory the Patrician, Exarch of Africa and the first invasion of the Umayyads in North Africa. There is some evidence that senior Byzantine administration in the Exarchate of Africa retreated to Cagliari following the final fall of Carthage to the Arabs in 697.
The loss of imperial control in Africa led to escalating Moorish and Berber raids on the island, the first of which is document in 705, forcing increased military self-reliance in the province.
Communication with the central government became daunting if not impossible during and after the Muslim conquest of Sicily between 827 and 902. A letter by Pope Nicholas I as early as 864 mentions the “Sardinian judges”, without reference to the empire and a letter by Pope John VIII (reigned 872-882) refers to them as principes (“princes”). By the time of De Administrando Imperio, completed in 952, the Byzantine authorities no longer listed Sardinia as an imperial province, suggesting they considered it lost.
Whether this final transformation from imperial civil servant to independent sovereign resulted from imperial abandonment or local assertion, by the 10th century, the giudici (Sardinian: judikes / Latin: iudices, literally judges”, a Byzantine administrative title) had emerged as the autonomous rulers of Sardinia. The title of iudice changed with the language and local understanding of the position, becoming the Sardinian giudice, essentially a king or sovereign, while giudicato (Sardinian: judicadu), literally judgeship or judicature, came to mean both State and palace or capital.