Nuraghi

Nuraghi are tall towers, remarkable because of their scale and the fact that they are built entirely of dry stone. Found on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, they are also remarkable for having been built in extraordinary numbers. No fewer than seven thousand are known to have been constructed, during the second millennium B.C.E., on an island measuring no more than about four hundred kilometers (250 miles) by two hundred kilometers (120 miles). They are characterized by a central chamber with a corbelled roof, often of magnificent proportions. Several have a second corbelled chamber built directly above the first, and a few have yet a third on top of that. An example of this last category is Santu Antine, situated some fifty kilometers from Alghero in the northwest of the island. Its lowest chamber rises to a height of just under eight meters (twenty-six feet), the next to over five meters (seventeen feet), and the highest was of comparable size but its roof has now collapsed. The remaining tower still stands to a height of over 17.5 meters (fifty-seven feet). The majority of the nuraghi were simple towers, but some were elaborated by the addition of a surrounding complex of walls, corridors, chambers, and smaller towers. Commonly, these complex nuraghi—like Santu Antine itself—have a three-fold symmetry, the compound stretching out to rounded lobes at three corners of a roughly equilateral triangle; others have four or even five corners.

The function of the nuraghi remains an archaeological puzzle. Astronomical associations have been suggested at a number of them, including solstitial alignments in both directions along two of the three outer walls at Santu Antine. Alignments between nuraghi may also have been important: local archaeoastronomer Mauro Zedda has identified a number of solstitial and also lunar alignments between nuraghi in the vicinity of the town of Isili in the center of the island. For example, from the now-ruinous nuraghe Nueddas, the tower of nuraghe Is Paras is prominent on the skyline in the direction of midsummer sunset, while that of nuraghe Longu marks midsummer sunrise in a similar way.

However, such alignments can arise by chance—especially considering the large numbers of nuraghi in the Sardinian landscape—and systematic studies are clearly needed. Recently such a study has been attempted. It concentrated upon the orientation along the main axis toward the entrance and measured this direction at 450 nuraghi from all over the island. The study concluded that nuraghi are predominantly oriented southeastward and southward, a pattern that fits an "orientation signature" common among tombs and temples in western Europe, and in particular applies also to the tombi digiganti ("tombs of giants"), a type of megalithic tomb attributed to the same culture that built the nuraghi. Although this pattern corresponds to a general practice of orientations toward where the sun climbs in the sky, a strong preference for orientations close to azimuth 150 degrees may be better explained in relation to the rising of the Southern Cross. This suggestion appears to be supported by evidence of a gradual orientation change with time, which would have resulted if monument alignments had followed the inexorable southward movement of this asterism over the centuries that occurred as a result of precession.

See also:

Solstitial Directions.

Is Paras; Prehistoric Tombs and Temples in Europe.

Azimuth; Precession.

References and further reading

Contu, Ercole. Il Nuraghe Santu Antine. Sassari: Carlo Delfine Editore, 1988. [In Italian.]

Hoskin, Michael. Tombs, Temples and Their Orientations, 183-185. Bognor

Regis, UK: Ocarina Books, 2001. Littarru, Paolo, and Mauro Peppino Zedda. Santu Antine: Guida Archeoas-tronomica al Nuraghe Santu Antine di Torralba. Cagliari, Italy: Associ-azione Culturale Agora' Nuragica, 2003. [In Italian.] Zedda, Mauro Peppino. I Nuraghi: Il Sole La Luna. Cagliari, Italy: Ettore

Gasperini Editore, 1991. [In Italian.] Zedda, Mauro Peppino. I Nuraghi tra Archeologia e Astronomia. Cagliari,

Italy: Agora Nuragica, 2004. [In Italian.] Zedda, Mauro Peppino, and Juan Antonio Belmonte. "On the Orientations of Sardinian Nuraghes: Some Clues to their Interpretation." Journal for the History of Astronomy 35 (2004), 85-107.

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