Forgotten Civilisation 10: Nuragic civilization

Aerial view of the Nuraghe Genna Maria, Villanovaforru

Lasting from the 18th Century BCE until the Roman Conquest of 228 BCE, The Nuragic Civilisation was a culture/kingdom that governed the second largest Mediterranean Sea Island, Sardinia, in Italy.

The word ‘Nuragic’ is derived from the island’s most mysterious monument, the nuraghe, a fortress the ancient Sardinians constructed in large numbers from 1800 BCE onwards.

There have been no documented evidence of the civilization apart from a few short epigraphic records belonging to the later stages of Nuragic kingdoms.

Pre-Nuragic Sardinia

In the early Stone Age, the island was occupied by tribes who had arrived there in the Neolithic and Paleolithic ages from the Mediterranean area and Europe. The oldest settlements have been found both in northern and central Sardinia. Numerous later cultures evolved on the island, such as the Ozieri culture (3200−2700 BCE). The economy was based on animal husbandry, agriculture, trading with the mainland, and finishing. With the diffusion of metallurgy copper, and silver objects and weapons also appeared on the island.

Remains from this era include hundreds of dolmens and menhirs, more than 2,400 hypogeum tombs called Domus de Janas, the statue menhirs, female figures, and the pyramid of Monte d’Accoddi, near Sassari, which show some connections with the monumental complex of Los Millares (Andalusia).

One of the Domus de janas of the necropolis of Monte Siseri, Putifigari

The shrine of Monte d’Accoddi fell out of use beginning from 2000 BCE, when the Beaker culture, which was widespread in almost all western Europe, arrived on the island. The beakers came in Sardinia from two different regions: southern France and Spain, and secondly from Central Europe, through the Italian Peninsula.

Nuragic era

Early Bronze Age

The Bonnanaro culture was the last stage of the Beaker culture in Sardinia (c. 1800–1600 BCE) and presented several similarities with northern Italy’s contemporary Polada culture. These two cultures shared standard features in the material culture, such as pottery with ax-shaped handles. These influences may have grown to Sardinia via Corsica, where they absorbed new architectural techniques ( that were already widespread on the island.

New peoples coming from the mainland landed on the island at that time, bringing new technologies, unique religious philosophies, and new ways of life, making the previous ones old-fashioned or reinterpreting them.

Model of Nuragic ship from Bultei, Museo archeologico nazionale (Cagliari)

The broad diffusion of bronze brought many improvements. With the new alloy of tin and copper or arsenic, a more rigid and more resistant metal was achieved, suitable for manufacturing tools used in hunting, agriculture, and warfare. From this period begins the installation of the proto-nuraghe, a platform-like construction that marks the first phase of the Nuragic Age. These structures are very different from the classical nuraghe having an extraordinary planimetry and a stocky appearance.

Middle and Late Bronze Age

Architecture

Dating to the heart of the 2nd millennium BCE, the nuraghe, which emerged from the previous proto-nuraghe, are megalithic towers with a trimmed cone shape; every Nuragic building had at least an inner tholos chamber, and the most prominent towers could have up to three superimposed tholos chests. They are extensive in the whole of Sardinia, around one nuraghe every three square kilometers.

Early Greek geographers and historians speculated about the spiritual nuraghe and their builders. They wrote the widespread presence of fabulous edifices, called daidaleia, from Daedalus’s name, who, after building his labyrinth in Crete, would have shifted to Sicily and later to Sardinia.

However, modern theories about their use have included military, social, astronomical, or religious roles, such as tombs or furnaces. Although the question has long been confusing among historians, modern consent is that they were built as proper homesites, including silos and barns.

In the latter half of the 2nd millennium BCE, archaeological investigations have shown the growing size of the tribes around some of these constructions, often located at the hills’ summit. Perhaps for protection reasons, new towers were attached to the original ones, connected by walls provided with holes forming a complex nuraghe.

Nuraghe Santu Antine, Torralba, internal corridor

Among the most famous of the many existing nuraghe are the Santu Antine at Torralba, Su Nuraxi at Barumini, Nuraghe Palmavera at Alghero, Nuraghe Losa at Abbasanta, Nuraghe Genna Maria at Villanovaforru, Arrubiu at Orrolli, and Nuraghe Seruci at Gonnesa. Like the Nuraghe Arrubiu, the biggest nuraghe could reach a height of about 30 meters. It could be made up of five principal towers, protected by multiple layers of walls, for a total of dozens of additional towers.

Nuraghe Losa, Abbasanta

Evolution

Soon Sardinia, a land remarkably rich in mines, notably copper and lead, saw the development of diverse furnaces for alloy production, which were traded across the Mediterranean region. Nuragic people became fairly skilled metal workers; they were among the leading metal producers in Europe and designed various bronze objects. New weapons such as daggers, swords, and axes preceded drills, rings, pins, figurines, bracelets, and the votive boats closely related to the sea. Tin may have brought Bronze Age traders from the Aegean where copper is available, but tin for bronze-making is rare.

The first provable smelting slag has come to light; its presence in a hoard of ancient tin confirms local smelting as well as professional casting. The usually cited tin sources and trade in olden times are those in the Iberian Peninsula or Cornwall.

Market

Markets included cultures living in regions with inadequate metal resources, such as the Mycenaean culture, Crete and Cyprus, and the Iberian peninsula, a fact that can reveal the cultural similarities between them and the Nuraghe civilization.

Iron Age

Archaeologists define the Nuragic phase as extending from 900 BCE to 500 BCE (Iron Age) as the aristocracies’ era. Fine ceramics were created along with more and more complex tools, and the quality of weapons increased.

With the extensive evolution of profitable trade, metallurgical products, and other manufactured goods were exported to every place in the Mediterranean, from the Near East to Spain and even the Atlantic. The huts in the settlements increased in number, and there was a large increase in population. The nuraghes construction stopped, and individual tombs substituted mass burials.

But the real discovery of that period was the political organization that revolved around the village’s parliament, composed of the heads and the most powerful people, who came together to discuss the most critical issues.

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