By Luca Foschi, Foschiluca.com
It all began with the most classic features of archaeological fairy tales. Two honest ploughmen, Sisinnio Poddi and Battista Meli, were preparing the sowing in the surroundings of Monte Prama, a small and gentle town of west Sardinia in March 1974. Like most years the allotment was leased from the catholic Brotherhood of Santo Rosario. Each year the plowshare drew white fragments of stone on the barren, sandy surface, the odd stone disappearing from the pile where they had been gathered.
Stones were to be used for new houses on the sea front or for the illegal market of art. Eventually Giovanni Corrias, owner of an adjacent plot, spotted in the umpteenth heap a timeless, wild-eyed gaze of a big sandstone head and called the Regional Archaeological Supervision. It was the first giant of Monte Prama, one of the most intriguing and relevant archaeological finds in Western Europe.
Moving from fable to comedy, it took 40 years for the institutions to be able to display the invaluable evidence and give order to more than 5,000 pieces unearthed during the digging out activities, which lasted almost five years. One million euros (around £800,000) and another lustrum (from 2007 to 2012) of brilliant study and restoration drew 38 statues out of the chaotic splinters.
The Giants of Monte Prama are now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari and at the town museum of Cabras. The statues’ height varies from 2 to 2.5 meters (6.5 ft) and represent boxers, archers and warriors belonging to a period the archaeologists place between the 8th and the 10th century BC. The figures stood in protection of tombs in the nearby necropolis. There are many suggestions inspired by the colossi to the researchers, who underline either the etrurian or the oriental influences of the style. “The Giants probably recall heroes from the past”, explained Alessandro Usai, scientific director of the restoring operation.
Along with the giants there was also small representations of nuraghes, the tower- fortress characteristic of the harmonious and unique civilization that marked the history of Sardinia from the 18th to the 2nd century BC. The Nuragic Civilization, scarcely known in an island famous for the outstanding beaches and the presence of the international jet-set, has left some of the most mysterious and important archaeological evidence in the Mediterranean area: more than 7,000 nuraghes, several Sacred pits and the Giants’ graves are scattered all over a territory that became strategically crucial for NATO during the Cold War. Nuclear submarines, compounds and drills based on depleted uranium still mark the landscape and its inhabitants.
The giants of Monte Prama may represent the renaissance of one of the five Italian special regions, ignored and exploited by the central state since the national unification in 1861. This time boxers and archers are expected to lower fists and arrows and blink with their concentric eyes to the European tourists. The crisis has left deep scars on the socio-economic fabric, doped by decades of unnatural and costly support for the industrial branch. The newly elected government lead by Francesco Pigliaru, belonging to Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, dashed to the inaugurating ceremony in Cagliari.
Few believe them when they suggested it would be the last time a Sardinian warrior waits 40 years before finding his spot in history.