Fragments of two statues emerge from Monte Prama excavations: but that's just the beginning

Fragments of new Giants have emerged from excavations at Mont'e Prama in Sardinia-a very important find, and it is only the beginning.

Excavations begin again and the “discoveries” (or rather discoveries) at the site of Mont’e Prama, the Sardinian Iron Age sanctuary that has become famous because of the statues of so-called “giants.” full-round sculptures representing boxers, warriors and nuraghe found in a necropolis located in the municipality of Cabras, at Mont’e Prama precisely. Sculptures, and a sanctuary or heroon, with few comparisons in the Mediterranean.

On the morning of May 7, the Superintendence and Ministry announced the discovery of large fragments of two new statues, both representing boxers, which will add to the knowledge about a site still largely unexplored. Although in fact Minister Dario Franceschini speaks, as usual, of an “exceptional discovery,” the find is only the first step in a campaign that is just beginning, but planned in great detail, so much so that excavation director and Soprintendenza archaeologist Alessandro Usai specifies how they “gone in full swing” on the area by “resuming old excavations and expanding them in continuity with what we know as the Nuragic necropolis, which develops along a precise road in the section we are investigating.” Superintendent Monica Stochino also emphasized that the finding rewards “the constancy and validity of the archaeological method of progressive exploration through phases of preliminary survey and systematic investigation, measured and carried out in the manner and within the time allowed by the availability of resources and the parallel elaboration of the projects of excavation, restoration and exhibition of the finds and enhancement of the site.” These finds will therefore be followed by many more; the excavation began only on April 4.

Uno dei frammenti appena scoperti
One of the newly discovered fragments

Planning does not mean less significance of the finds. Far from it. In the Sardinian sphere, and not only “this necropolis is unique,” Usai further explains, “the excavation here is an integrated research not only of the statues but of everything including excavations of tombs, thanks to which the anthropological aspect also comes out: that is, the need to define chronology, nature and role of these statues.” There is indeed a debate, a heated one, about the meaning, use and chronology of the artifacts. Since the 1970s, above the series of well-organized tombs and in the vacant strip in front of them, which constitutes a kind of funerary road, the statues have been found in a fragmentary state, shattered already in ancient times and voluntarily deposited on top of and next to the tombs. “At present,” the scholars explain, “it is not possible to determine the original location of the statues, whose fragments were found in a chaotic condition. The most recent studies date the tombs and sculptures between the end of the ninth and the first half of the eighth century B.C., at the height of the Iron Age, while there is no certainty about the original location. Above the tombs, and nearby? The question remains as to who the sculptures represent, why the need was felt to ”heroize" the buried people-or if other is the meaning of the statues-and why produce these enlarged versions of Nuragic bronzes representing the same subjects. And the question remains open then as to how the necropolis, or rather its monumental part, ended up: the statues were found lying sprawled and fragmentary, torn down already in ancient times. Was it a deliberate operation, the work of local communities or newcomers (Phoenicians first and Carthaginians later settled in nearby Tharros in those centuries) or again, as Usai speculates in Repubblica, the result of abandonment with subsequent undeliberate degradation? Research may offer new elements in this regard as well.

The current construction site is funded by the local Superintendency with 85,000 euros and will last through the spring. A new project of greater cost and ambition, directed by the Superintendency with the MiC Regional Secretariat as the contracting station, should start later. “The research has been directed on two main objectives,” explained Superintendent Stochino, “on the one hand to investigate some groups of burials of the oldest, Nuragic, and later Punic-Roman phase, in order to find the scientific information essential to a reconstruction of the world in which the cultural phenomena that led to the creation of the site developed; on the other hand, to extend the excavations to the south of the areas already investigated, with the intention of confirming the extent of the monumental arrangement of the area with the definition of the funerary road and the creation of the sculptural complex formed by statues, nuraghe models and betili.”

The Secretariat and Superintendence are also about to launch an even more ambitious intervention, amounting to 2.8 million euros, which includes the restoration of sculptures found from 2014 to 2016. These resources, preceded by the 3 million euros earmarked for the expansion of the Archaeological Museum of Cabras as part of the program of interventions provided for in the Strategic Plan “Major Cultural Heritage Projects” annuality 2015/2016, are also joined by 4.15 million euros for the site of Tharros, also in the municipality of Cabras. An important investment that will deliver to the newly formed Monte Prama Foundation (which received 12 million from the Region of Sardinia a few months after seeing the light) an important heritage to be enhanced. Although, for now, as was the case before the foundation was created, the work of studying and enhancing the site is being carried out by the archaeologists of the State Superintendency. The current excavation work is in fact the result of “the intense work of scientific and technical preparation” - using the words of the press release - conducted by archaeologists Alessandro Usai and Maura Vargiu, anthropologist Francesca Candilio, restorer Georgia Toreno and architect Elena Romoli. We will be watching to see how many more statues and stories the Mont’e Prama grounds will bring back in the coming months and years.