Archaeology lecture: Sardinia in the Mediterranean

Bonnie Tilland

This past week, the Lawrence campus was given a window with a view to an ancient civilization with visitng professor Robert Tykot’s lecture “Sardinia in the Mediterean.” Professor Tykot delivered a lecture on the archeology and anthropology of Sardinia, Sicily, and Corsica’s lesser-known neighbor in the Mediterranean. This was the second lecture this year to be sponsored by the Appleton chapter of the Archeological Institute of America, and was held in the Wriston auditorium. Tykot also thanked R.S. Webster for the support of the archeology lecture series.

Tykot is the associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida, and has conducted extensive research on the archeology and anthropology of Sardinia. The island of Sardinia is often confused with Sicily by outsiders, and has long been regarded as “culturally backward” in comparison to the other Mediterranean islands. In 1906, D.H. Lawrence went so far as to say that Sardinia was “outside the circle of civilization.”

Tykot said that while Sardinian civilization may have been “backward” in 1906, it certainly was not backward in 1906 b.c. On the island of 24,000 square kilometers, about the size of Massachusetts, there have been many findings of great archeological importance.

Archeological sites on Sardinia have been dated as early as the Paleolithic age, the last ice age. By the time of the Neolithic age, archeological findings show that the peoples of Sardinia had domesticated plants and animals and crafted pottery (5700 b.c.).

The pottery which has been excavated is often imprinted with the edge of a shell rolled into the clay. Obsidian, a black, smooth stone which was highly valued (and some would say overly-emphasized in archeological circles), also appeared in Sardinia at this time. Although they were still a Neolithic people, there is evidence that by 3000 b.c., rituals had emerged that were unique to Sardinia, the most important having to do with the elaboration of burials and the use of burial chambers.

At the same time that burial rituals were developed, there began to be construction of hollow brick structures that were used as residential areas. These brick buildings normally had a stairway to the roof, and were called Naraghi. As Sardinian society became more advanced, the naragic villages grew larger and more elaborately built. Although the naraghi stones were all differently shaped, the structure was strong, and the stones stayed in place without the use of any glue or binding material.

By the twelfth century b.c., larger towers were being built and they were clearly strategically placed, to protect against neighboring enemies. Unfortunately, many of these towers have since been destroyed. Another interesting archeological find from this period are the central altar naraghi, small models of naraghi which stood on a central altar within the real thing, indicating that the naraghi had more than a physical meaning for ancient Sardinians.

Tycot went on to discuss trade between Sardinian and other areas, including Cyprus and the mainland, and mentioned that trade had social implications: until the last millennium b.c. and the first millennium a.d., the Sardinians had little social hierarchy and little importance was placed on the individual. After contact with the mainland and Cyprus, warrior symbolism and hierarchy emerged in Sardinian art and architecture.

Tycot concluded his lecture by explaining why he thinks Sardinia still doesn’t attract much international attention: because there are no Greek structures or “higher” cultural influences, archeologists and anthropologists have been inclined to dismiss Sardinia as culturally backward. Hopefully this tendency will change in the future, because there is still much about Sardinia to be studied and discovered.