September 22: Lecture by Peter van Dommelen

Between Giant Statues and Indigenous Landscapes: Mont’e Prama and Iron Age Sardinia within the Wider Mediterranean

The statues of the Iron Age site of Mont’e Prama in western Central Sardinia have gained academic significance and popular fame for their ‘giant’ size and sheer number as much as for their ‘mysterious’ appearance and origins. Long ascribed to Phoenician colonial influences, recent excavations and research are making it clear that they were not so much exotic and unique phenomena as integral features of a complex burial and ritual site of broadly 8th-century date (BCE) with deep Indigenous ‘Nuragic’ roots.

The discovery of the statues in 1974 and their excavation in the following five years were only briefly reported on in local newspapers and two academic papers and the largest and best-preserved statues subsequently stood for decades largely unnoticed in the National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari. The restoration of the statues and their presentation to the public in 2011, by contrast, made a huge and lasting impression on contemporary Sardinia. The exhibition drew large crowds of people, renewed academic interest spawned multiple heavy tomes and, as a result, new excavations at the site of Mont’e Prama started in 2014. The present exhibition of one of the statues in the Metropolitan Museum is part and parcel of the renewed interest in the site of Mont’e Prama and its by now famous statues – who now also boast their own website at

In this lecture, I will combine examination of the statues themselves with exploration of both the site of Mont’e Prama and the wider landscapes of the Sinis Peninsula and the northern Campidano valley. Such a broad context-based perspective makes it possible to overcome claims of the Mont’e Prama statues as mysterious anomalies that can only be explained by reference to colonial interventions; it also allows me to argue that both the statues and the site as a whole were intimately intertwined with Indigenous practices and profoundly embedded in the surrounding landscapes of the Sinis Peninsula. I will complete my lecture with an ethnographic reflection on the enthusiasm with which contemporary Sardinians have embraced the rediscovery of their Iron Age Nuragic heritage.

(The Ira Haupt II Lecture)

September 22 at 6:00 pm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave