The Sardinian “brontti”, fascinating representatives of a symbolic world that escapes us

Bronze warrior god from the 8th century BCE, from the Nuragic sanctuary of Abini, Teti, Sardinia.

He positions himself behind two shields and wears a sort of helmet from which two long, tangled horns protrude. Above all, looking at it closely, we see that it has four eyes and as many arms. Described as a “demon” – but perhaps it is only a mythical ancestor – this fantastic character presides over one of the showcases which, at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari (Sardinia), present the bronzetti, these small bronze statuettes characteristic of the Nuragic civilization, which dominated the island during the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, between 1800 and 800 BC. AD

Among the approximately five hundred bronzetti that remain today, certain characteristics are recurring: men who greet by raising their forearm, others who carry a loaf of bread or an animal as an offering, still others dressed in a cape, which we imagine into tribal leaders. “Characters from everyday life are represented, but also “fighters”, “hunters”, “soldiers””, summary Isabelle Catteddu. This archaeologist, who, in France, works at the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, wants to put quotation marks on the common names attached to these characters, because “these are current words that we put aside” on a culture from which we are separated by four millennia.

“These statuettes are considered offerings, she adds. The oldest arrive around 1200-1100 BC. BC, at this moment of crisis of the Nuragic civilization where we see the development of sanctuaries. The latest, dated between 900 and 700 BC. BC, can reach around 40 centimeters in height, and they were found on the Abini site. » In addition to the human characters, there are numerous animals – deer, oxen, dogs, goats, sheep, birds, etc. -, as well as statuettes resembling boats with an animal figurehead, but which perhaps had, more pragmatically, a lamp function given their shape.

A fertile mental universe

Always in bronze and always symbolic are the votive swords that have been discovered in large numbers near sacred fountains and temples with wells. Often a human character ociated with a stylized animal forms the handle. How do we know they were votive swords? “Analysis of the metal showed that the proportion of tin to copper was such that they were unusable as weapons, too fragile”, replies Isabelle Catteddu. What did their presence mean? Mystery.

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