The Self-representation of Sardinia Nuragic Civilization

Theme: Documentation of Intangible Rural Traditions and Practices

by Ms. Ilenia Atzori
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Sardinia, Italy
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Museum Studies, Leicester University

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Between the 2nd millennium and the 1st century B.C., Sardinia developed and saw the decline of its own unique civilization, known as the Nuragic Civilization. Although a very short introduction will be provided, it is not the purpose of this essay to give an extensive record of the historical facts related to this part of Sardinia history. Rather, the purpose of this short article is to discuss about the cultural representation of such civilization and how they document intangible rural traditions and practices of the time.

Figure 1 Some examples of Nuraghe, Source: http://www.sardegnadigitallibrary.it

The expression ‘Nuragic Civilization’ refers to the builders of the iconic stone buildings called Nuraghi marking out the island’s landscape (Fig. 1). Nuraghe is a cyclopic, truncated cone-shaped stone building and according to the existing literature, based on their structure and position, the nuraghi could have been fortified residences, towers devoted to the control of the surrounding territory or castle-like buildings where the tribe leaders would have lived [1].

The Nuragic Civilization was a hierarchical, highly skilled society: from the available literature it is nowadays agreed that they were an agro-pastoral society with a deep knowledge on the processing and preservation of raw materials and food, on the processing of stones, bones, pottery and leather, and the processing and shaping of metals. The latter, especially, is one of the activities for which the Nuragic Civilization is usually most renowned thanks to their bronze statuettes called bronzetti.

According to Gonzalez (2012), bronzetti are “communicative artifacts” but also an expression of social inequality: being interpreted as “votive offerings donated by members of a stratified society at the sanctuaries” it was the donator’s social status that would “determine motive (in a sense of self-representation) and quality of the figurine[2]. Micò and Gonzalez noted that bronzetti were intended for human communication rather than mechanical use, and as such “they can be classified as ‘means of production’ in human communication and learning” [2]; their size can range between few centimetres up to 39 cm.

Generally interpreted as ex-voto, that is votive offerings to the sanctuaries or sacred areas, bronzetti were realized with a technique called lost-wax casting (Fig. 2) and could represent human beings, animals, furniture and tools, carriages and boats, as well as small Nuraghi.

Figure 2 Picture of the interpretive panel about the lost-wax casting technique at the National Archeological Museum of Cagliari (©author, 2019).

As for the technique, a wax model of the artifact was first realized, including the smallest details and kind of sticks that would allow the creation of venting channels on a clay cast; once the clay was cooked -and thus the wax melted- these channels would allow the pouring melted bronze to fill in the cast and create the intended artifact. The external matrix was then broken, and the exceeding material cut off from the statuette that was thus polished [3].

Among the different types of anthropomorphic bronzetti, there are warriors, clan chiefs, but also ordinary men and women represented while performing different actions: offering some food or other goods to the sanctuary, playing some music instrument or fighting, riding animals or at work.

Observing these statuettes, Angela Demontis tried to identify and reproduce the different materials and accessories of their clothes. Her research led to the book and travelling exhibition called “Il Popolo di Bronzo” (lit. translated, The Bronze People), where she describes the different raw materials and their processing techniques and uses, as well as the possible colors available and dyeing techniques. Hence, in the second part of the book, she proposes 100 different bronzetti records focused on the statuettes’ outfits and how the different parts might have been tied together.

For the purpose of this article, three different bronzetti will be examined in further detail: the masked warrior found in Teti, Abini (near Nuoro), the lady in a Mycenaean dress, found in Teti, Abini, and the Launeddas player found in Ittiri, near Sassari, all displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

The Masked Warrior

This 19 cm bronze statue is one of the most renowned among all the bronzetti found thus far. Its peculiarities are the long horns on his helmet, his 4 eyes and arms, double shields and a double set of swords (Fig. 3).

Figure 3 Picture from Angela Demontis’ book “il Popolo di Bronzo”, Source: http://www.foati.com

As the picture shows, Angela Demontis gives her interpretation of the warrior’s outfit: he wears a rhomboidal mask and an Armour that make him appear as if he had a double set of arms: the purpose of such Armour is to intimidate his opponents. According to Gonzalez, warriors’ important features are enhanced in this representation: extra eyesight, extra strength and extra armament [4].

The double set of arms also allows the warrior’s actual arms to hold an estoc each, leaning behind his head [5]. His malleolus and shinbones were protected by some studs and shin guards with hard reinforcements respectively. As for the materials used, his shin guards, Armour and other parts of his outfit (e.g. his helmet) were in leather. Therefore, in this first example of bronzetto [6] we can identify some of the manufacturing activities performed by the Nuragic Civilization: farming, leather tanning, metal processing (for both religious and war purposes).

The Lady in a Mycenaean Dress

This small (8,5 cm) bronzetto represents a woman dressed like the Minoan Snake Goddess figurine: turban-like hat, curls or braids, a long skirt with a geometric pattern (Fig. 4). She also shows her bare breast partially covered by a mantle on her shoulder: Demontis’ hypothesis for this is that she might have worn a corset-like bra like those that can still be found in Sardinia’s

traditional clothing, as well as a short tight jacket similar to those in Sardinia’s traditional clothing, but with very short sleeves. In her hands, an offer to the sanctuary that might be a focaccia with a radial decoration [7]. Comparing the famous fresco from the Tyrins’ Palace and Sardinia’s traditional clothing, Demontis observes some similarities between the Cretan women’s clothes and the colors of Desulo [8]’s short jackets.

Figure 4 The Lady in a Mycenaean dress: comparison between images

This bronzetto presents a dress which is different from the other female figures; in addition, as well as the other anthropomorphic figurines wearing clothes, it poses questions on the possible fabrics and colors used to realize it. Among them, wool, hemp and linen are identified as some examples of fabrics that could have been used in the Nuragic period, while mastic (yellow and green), saffron (yellow) and arbutus (grey) are some examples of the plants that might have been used as dyeing agents.

The Launeddas Player

Launeddas are Sardinia’s music instrument par excellence. Still in use not only in folk music but also in some pop-rock music, it is created from tall perennial canes, one of the many reed species, and is composed by 3 pieces that differ in size and in the sound each of them produces [9].

Figure 5 The Launeddas Player and a picture of the musical instrument, Source:bronze figurine [https://twitter.com/MuseoArcheoCa/status/795646601742217216]; launeddas: Giovanni Dore’s book “Gli strumenti della musica popolare della Sardegna”

This small (8 cm) figurine represents a naked individual (he has both masculine and feminine attributes: phallus and breasts [10]) while playing such instrument (Fig. 5). As Demontis observes, the drone seems to be the longest pipe in this figurine’s instrument: this may suggest an evolution of the Launeddas through the centuries, since nowadays the drone is the shortest pipe.

Bronzetti were mainly found in sanctuaries or cult areas throughout the island and are therefore interpreted as votive offers[11]. Lo Schiavo interprets figurative bronzetti as a collective ritual offer rather than ex-voto offered by a single individual [12]. As Canino suggests, individuals especially address deities when they face tough difficulties (e.g. crisis, famines, epidemics) and this is probably the case with the Nuragic Civilization during the Late Bronze Age, when a climatic change may have occurred and people had a stronger environmental impact due to the increase of pastures and a susceptible decrease in wild animals and vegetation. In the same period, the construction of Nuraghi stopped and the existing villages were partially abandoned. However, as Canino further notes, it was in that period that the lost-wax technique was acquired by the Nuragic Civilization.

The convergence between the archaeological data and the observation of these bronze figurines allows a deeper understanding of the society they represent and their activities; from the three examples examined, the following activities (which have already been confirmed by the archaeological evidence) can be associated to the Nuragic Civilization: farming, leather tanning (most likely based on plants) [13], metal processing, textile weaving and dyeing, cereals growing and bread making, music instruments’ crafting and playing.

Although they have increasingly evolved through the centuries, these activities are still part of Sardinia’s manufacturing activities; some of them (e.g. ‘traditional’ textile dyeing) have now become learning workshops in museums or during cultural events. Others, especially farming and the associated activities (e.g. processing of raw materials), still have a relevant impact on the island’s economy.

Footnotes:

[1] Ugas, G. La Sardegna Nuragica. Aspetti Generali, La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari, 2014; p. 22

[2] Gonzalez, R. A. Sardinian bronze figurines in their Mediterranean setting. p. 18.

[3] Lo Schiavo, F. La produzione metallurgica. In La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari, 2014; pp. 95 – 96.

[4] Gonzalez, R. A. Sardinian bronze figurines in their Mediterranean setting, p. 5.

[5] Demontis, A. Il Popolo di Bronzo – Abiti, armi e attrezzature dei bronzetti sardi in 100 schede illustrate, Condaghes, Cagliari, 2005; p. 136.

[6] Singular for bronzetti.

[7] Tweet of the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari during the #MuseumWeek Twitter event, dated 13 May 2019. https://twitter.com/MuseoArcheoCa/status/1127861668531380225.

[8] Desulo is a small town of about 2300 people in the Province of Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy), whose traditional clothing is particularly colorful: red, blue and yellow are its main colors.

[9] Dore, G. Gli strumenti della musica popolare della Sardegna, Edizioni 3T, Cagliari; pp. 37 – 64.

[10] This is probably related to some ‘religious’ cult, as suggested by the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari in a tweet dated 07 November 2016. https://twitter.com/MuseoArcheoCa/status/795646601742217216.

[11] Canino, G. Bronzi a figura maschile, La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, 2014, p. 347.

[12] Lo Schiavo, F. La produzione metallurgica, La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, 2014, p. 119.

[13] Lo Schiavo, F. La concia delle pelli nella Sardegna nuragica: un problema aperto, L’Alun De Méditerranée, Borgard, Brun, Picon (ed.), 2005; pp. 343 – 352

Bibliography

  • Araque Gonzalez, R. (2012), Sardinian bronze figurines in their Mediterranean setting. In Praehistorische Zeitschrift 2012; 87(1): pp. 83–109, Accessed on 13/09/2019 from: <www.researchgate.net/publication/270438428_Sardinian_bronze_figurines_in_their_Mediterranean_setting>
  • Canino, G. (2014) Bronzi a figura maschile. In La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari.
  • Demontis, A. (2005) Il Popolo di Bronzo – Abiti, armi e attrezzature dei bronzetti sardi in 100 schede illustrate, Condaghes, Cagliari.
  • Dore, G. (1976) Gli strumenti della musica popolare della Sardegna, Edizioni 3T, Cagliari.
  • Lo Schiavo, F. (2014) La produzione metallurgica. In La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari.
  • Lo Schiavo, F. (2005) La concia delle pelli nella Sardegna nuragica: un problema aperto. In L’Alun De Méditerranée, Borgard, P.; Brun, J. P.; Picon, M. (ed.), Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, Napoli. Accessed on 24 September 2019 from: <https://books.openedition.org/pcjb/544>
  • Sabiu, F. “Angela Demontis, l’artista che ridà vita al popolo dei bronzi dell’antica Sardegna”. La voce di New York – Arte e Design 07 March 2019. Accessed on 18/09/2019 from: <www.lavocedinewyork.com/arts/arte-e-design/2019/03/07/angela-demontis-lartista-che-rida-vita-al-popolo-dei-bronzi-dellantica-sardegna>
  • Ugas, G. (2014) La Sardegna Nuragica. Aspetti Generali. In La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali(Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari; p. 22

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