An elite force of prehistoricwarriors – carved from solid rock in the western Mediterranean 2700 years ago –is rising from oblivion.
Archaeologists and conservation experts on the Italian island of Sardinia have succeeded in re-assembling literally thousands of fragments of smashed sculpture to recreate a small yet unique army of life-size stone warriors which were originally destroyed by enemy action in the middle of the first millennium BC.
It’s the only group of sculpted life-sized warriors ever found in Europe. Though consisting of a much smaller number of figures than China’s famous Terracotta Army, the Sardinia example is 500 years older and is made of stone rather than pottery.
After an eight year conservation and reconstruction program, 25 of the original 33 sculpted stone warriors – archers, shield-holding ‘boxers’ and probable swordsmen – have now been substantially re-assembled.
The warriors were originally sculpted and placed on guard over the graves of elite Iron Age Sardinians, buried in the 8 century BC. The stone guardians are thought to have represented the dead individuals or to have acted as their eternal body-guards and retainers.
However, within a few centuries, the Carthaginians (from what is now Tunisia) invaded Sardinia – and archaeologists suspect that it was they who smashed the stone warriors (and stone models of native fortress shrines) into five thousand fragments. It’s likely that the small sculpted army - and the graves they were guarding - were seen by the invaders as important symbols of indigenous power and status.
The site was abandoned and forgotten. Carthaginian control of Sardinia gave way to Roman, then Vandal, then Byzantine, Pisan, Aragonese, Spanish, Austrian, Savoyard and finally Italian rule.