National Archaeology of Cagliari Part One: Ancient Sardinia

National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari,  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardinia

When planning my trip to Cagliari, the first thing I knew I really needed to do was visit the Archaeology Museum.  It would have been necessary anyway, but what made it sound particularly interesting was the fact that the museum had objects from an ancient native Sardinian culture.  But I was wrong.  It wasn’t interesting – it was awesome.

National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

The museum was actually founded in 1800 when an Archaeology and Natural History collection was assembled in a room of the Viceroy’s Palace.  It was to be a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ with a real mix of antiquities, minerals and animals.  Two years later, the collection was opened to the public but passed into the hands of the Royal University of Cagliari in 1805.

Over the years the collection grew with donations and through archaeological digs, and it changed homes a number of times over the next century and a half.  In 1993 it moved to its current location in the Museum Citadel complex.

Now, the museum was in a peculiar state: there are four floors of exhibition space, but the first and second floors were being redone and therefore there were lots of enigmatic empty cases to walk past.  To be frank, the displays were poorly done.  However, what they are clearly working towards is the standard of the exhibition on the ground floor, so I’m certain that when they’re finished they will be amazing.

As it was, the highlight of the museum was the ground floor.  This gives a great overview of the history and archaeology of Sardinia.  The idea is that the subsequent floors then look at specific areas.  Anyway, as it stands you get to view life from the Early Neolithic period to the early Middle Ages, and see some pretty amazing things…

Small kaoline statue of a goddess, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Calcareous alabaster statue of a sitting goddess, Early Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Small marl statue of a goddess, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

A replica Mother Goddess to handle, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

1 Obsidian geometric microliths, small worked splinters, Early Neolithic, 2 Obsidian geometric microliths, Early Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Yellow granite statue, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Bone female figures, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Small sandstone statue of a goddess, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Female heads of marl and dark clay, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Female heads of marl and dark clay, Middle Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Basket jars with geometric motifs, Final Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Left to right, Tripod cooking pot, tripod with handles, and tripod, all Final Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Small adze with horn handle, from Bienne Lake in Switzerland, Late Neolithic, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Marble goddess, Copper Age, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Axes with raised edges, Middle Bronze Age, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Jugs from Final Bronze/Early Iron Age, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Vase and cup, Late Bronze Age, from the sanctuary cave of Su Benotzu, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

My absolute favourite objects in the museum, though, were the bronze so-called Nuragic figures.  These are the most fascinating remnants of the Nuragic culture which existed on Sardinia from the 1800s BC to at least the time of Roman colonisation of the island in 238BC.  Like many of their contemporaries, they left no written records, except for a few epigraphic inscriptions towards the end of their culture.

The culture is named after the most characteristic structure that they left on the Sardinian landscape – the nuraghe, which was a tower-fortress with an inner chamber.  They were so widespread that there are still over 7000 of these nuraghes on the island.  Ancient Greek authors were puzzled by the structures and the people who built them, and modern historians are no less puzzled.  The structures have been speculatively identified as tombs, furnaces – perhaps they had religious or astronomical roles.  Modern ideas tend towards the idea of their being defensible homes that could store goods.

The most charming aspect of the culture comes from the Sardinian land.  The island is rich in copper and lead, and these ancient Sardinians became skilled in producing alloys and making metal objects which they then exported across the Mediterranean.  They were experts in bronze, and along with weapons and household objects they made some adorable – and some pretty amazing – statuettes.  Because the dating was pretty unclear for many of these, and indeed the dating of the statuettes is up for scholarly discussion anyway, I’m just dating these as ‘Nuragic era’.

A range of Nuragic bronze figures, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Male orant, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Soldier with a dagger strapped to his chest, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Soldier with a round shield, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Male orant holding flatbreads, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Saluting archer, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Archer with the large eyes, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Archer with the curvy feet, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Soldier with horns, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Demon with four eyes, four arms, two rapiers and two shields, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Chieftain with the long toes, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Archer with bushy eyebrows, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Now, for me, this figure below was a masterpiece which deserves to be as well known as any other statuette from the ancient world.  From every angle it expressed a different mood, and its striking features took on different aspects according to the way the light hit it.  Really, it’s such a remarkable piece, I became slightly obsessed with it, so here are three pictures.

The magnificent archer, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Detail of the magnificent archer, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

The magnificent archer, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Votive swords, not used in battle, with deer at the ends, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Bronze handles, perhaps for wooden furniture, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Fighters, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

This chieftain was, for some reason, constantly rotating, so you got to see it from all angles.  I liked it from all angles.  If Nick Parks had lived in the Nuragic period, I think he would have created this fellow instead of Wallace and Gromit.

The turning Chieftain, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

The back of the turning Chieftain, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy.  Look at his ears.

Soldier with shield, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Votive ship with bull figurehead and small ducks on the railing, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Votive boat with monkey, Nuragic era, National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Please click here for Part Two of the Archaeology collection.

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