Mysterious Giants Finally on Display

A restored sandstone statue of a boxer.

A restored sandstone statue of a boxer.

Some of the most inexplicable statues from antiquity have finally gone on permanent display 40 years after they were discovered by a plowman on the Italian island of Sardinia.

“The Giants of Monte Prama” include statues of archers, wrestlers and boxers carved in sandstone, probably between the 9th and 8th centuries BC, before Rome was even founded. They belong to the Nuragic civilization, which flourished on Sardinia for two millennia until the second century AD.

The figures, standing over 6.5 feet high, are distinguished by their unearthly eyes, consisting of two perfectly concentric circles. They – or rather, their component parts – were found in 1974 near the town of Cabras on the west coast of the island.

After four excavation campaigns carried out between 1975 and 1979, roughly five thousand pieces were recovered, including 15 heads and 22 torsos. The fragments were stored for 30 years in the repositories of the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari, while a few of the most important pieces were exhibited in the museum itself.

It was not until 2005 that funds were set aside for the daunting task of reconstructing the statues. This also included representations of nuraghe, the tower-fortresses after which the Nuragic civilization is named. More than 5,000 pieces were dug up at the site.

Alessandro Usai, curator of the exhibition which opened recently at the National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari, said computers had been of limited use in the operation. “Most of the work was done by eye and by hand, using shape, type of stone and decoration as guides.” The reconstruction, which was completed in 2011, took four years.

The figures were discovered at a necropolis.  One theory is that the stone warriors guarded the tombs. But it has also been suggested that they belonged to an as-yet undiscovered nearby temple.

Usai said many other questions remained. “We don’t know how many there were altogether. Nor do we know if they were originally set out in lines or perhaps in squares.”

Twenty-eight of the works are on display in Cagliari and another ten are on view in Cabras, where it is hoped the Giants will help promote tourism.

Usai said three-dimensional digital representations of the missing statues would be created at each site, “so that the two exhibitions will be complementary.”

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