The Archaeological area
A prehistoric village built in a cave, or to be more exact in a sink-hole, invisible from the outside and reachable only by a long trek in the Supramonte on top of Mount Tiscali (ca. 500 a.s.l.) which rises to the right of the Sa Oche stream in the Lanaittu valley.
A fascinating ghost village
The location of the village in such a hidden spot has always attracted much interest. The first two scholars to study the place - Ettore Pais in 1910 and Alberto Taramelli in 1927 – interpreted it as a refuge for Sardinians during the Roman conquest. This is a captivating theory which has animated scholarly debate, however now archaeological research has shown that the Sardinians who lived there could not have been Nuragic because when Sardinia was annexed by Rome (238 BC), that civilization had been extinct for several centuries. In their place were the Civitates Barbariae, a non-urban community noted in historical and epigraphic sources.
An extensive village
The settlement comprises about 100 huts and subsidiary rooms distributed to the north and south-west of the sink-hole; some lean directly on the rocky walls or exploit the shape of the rock. The structures have a rectangular, quadrangular, circular or elliptical plan. The walls, of modest thickness, were made of roughly shaped limestone blocks and mortar; the mortar was obtained by mixing clayy soil (red soil) and gravel and adding organic aggregates. The walls were regularized by filling the interstices between one stone and another with mortar; the mortar was then externally smoothed following the projection of the walls. The thickness of the internal walls often contained niches to keep objects. Some structures had a truncated-conical shape with protruding walls and were perhaps roofed with a tholos or tree trunks and branches. The entrance to the only hut still visible and in a good state of conservation, has a terebinth (a Mediterranean shrub) lintel. The two construction phases can be observed here and, in another structure, located on the west side of the settlement: the oldest phase is a dry-stone wall base made with medium and large stones; in the second phase there is the thinner overlying wall, made with medium and small stones mixed with mortar.
Nuragic and Roman material
Archaeological investigations of two structures (1999 excavations) and surface finds have brought together Nuragic and Roman material. From the former there are ceramic sherds (cooking pans with comb decorations, small jars, carinated cups, jugs with circle decorations etc.) from contexts that date from the Mid- Bronze (1600 - 1300 BC) to the Final Bronze Age (1150 - 900 BC) and the Iron Age (900 – 700 BC). Roman material comprises some sherds from central Tyrrhenian amphorae, mainly Dressel 1, a type of wine amphora, produced from the mid-2nd-late 1st centuries, used particularly for famous wines. Similar amphorae have been found in the nearby Sos Sirios - Sos Sirieddos caves and demonstrate how the zone was becoming Romanised. These early signals can be explained by the vicinity of the east Sardinian coast, intensely used by Italic mercatores.
A settlement still to be studied
Only with new excavations can we hope to gain a clearer idea of the chronological and cultural aspects of the site. However, a few suggestions can be made from the phases of construction outlined above: the building techniques of the walls from the first stage are similar to those of the Nuragic period, whilst those of the second phase and most of what is now visible – whose technique is not typically Nuragic – could belong to a later stage, chronologically relative to the Punic or even Roman Republican and late Republican period. All of this relates to a local community open to commercial traffic with the Italian peninsula and which would eventually lead to the Romanisation of the area. Current knowledge of the material culture and building techniques of the Civitates Barbariae (so-called by the Romans) who inhabited the internal mountains of the island before and during the Roman occupation doesn’t allow us to make further assertations for the moment. At the same time it is worth remembering the evidence from Strabo, Diodorus, Pausanias and Zonaras who agree that indigenous Sardinians lived in the caves found throughout the Barbagia region.
The Nuragic-Roman settlement of Nuraghe Mannu
Nuraghe Mannu is an extensive complex lying at the centre of the Gulf of Orosei. It stands on a volcanic plateau, 200 metres a.s.l. dominating the whole Gulf and the Codula of Fuili, a small canyon whose river flows into the sea at the Fuili beach. Its position, rich in natural barriers, is strategic for the safety of the settlement and could have been used for its defence.
The Nuragic Age
The archaeological site, originating in the Bronze Age (1600 - 900 BC), comprises a simple nuraghe surrounded by a Nuragic and Roman settlement, with dozens of huts spread over two hectares. The nuraghe has a simple tholos structure built using huge irregularly placed polyhedral basalt blocks. It currently stands 3.5 metres high on the east side rising to 4.7 metres on the north; the internal diameter is 12.8 metres at the base and 11.20 metres at the top. The trapezium shaped entrance faces the sea and is surmounted by an irregular architrave. To reach the internal space, you cross a trapezial corridor from which the stairwell opens to the left, which still preserves twelve steps of the original stairway. The room has an irregular elliptic shape with two niches built into the thickness of the wall. Excavations in the room have produced a notable quantity of Nuragic pottery dated between the Mid-Bronze and Iron Ages (1600 - 700 BC), among which are cooking pans, jars, carinated cups and many loom weights. The Nuragic communities also terraced the uneven ground to make it suitable for building.
From the Nuragic people to Romans
One notable aspect of Nuraghe Mannu is the clear co-existence of different cultures with the Roman one overlying the Nuragic. This continuity underlines the importance of the site for commercial traffic over the centuries. In the Roman structures especially, several rooms were destined for civic and storage use thanks to the presence of silos, grinders and fragments of large storage jars lying on top of the Nuragic structures.
A stop-over for commercial traffic
Two rooms were excavated during the 2005 campaign, both of which had a civic use, and dated to the late Imperial Roman period (3rd- 4th centuries AD) these can be categorised as “Strip-buildings”, common in the Roman period. They were built with isodomic blocks, that were often reused, and with semi-finished stones without the use of mortar. An elliptical basin, dug into the rock was found in one room, probably used for holding water or foodstuffs. Roofs, probably single or double pitched were built in the Roman style and covered with flat tiles (tegulae) – some with a trademark stamp – and U-shaped tiles (imbrices) supported by a wooden beam. Each building had two rooms joined by a corridor arranged on the axis (N-S orientation) of the entrance door. Much pottery was found (fine ware, kitchen ware, cooking ware, amphorae, tiles), some metal (rings, nails, fish-hooks, slag etc.) about fifty coins and animal remains, some of which are displayed in the Archaeological Museum in Dorgali.
In general, we can say that these two building (like others found in previous excavation) to a civic settlement in use between the mid to late Imperial period, linked to commercial traffic and cabotage along the east Sardinian coast.
A late Antiquity-Byzantine-Medieval phase was also identified characterized by the presence of Imperial amphorae and African terra sigillata C and D decorated with Christian symbols; a roof tile stamped with a chrismon (formed by combining the Greek letters C and R with a cross) also belongs to the same phase. This design was very common in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Research and excavations
The site was first excavated by Alberto Taramelli in 1927 – two excavations in the settlement area where two Roman building were discovered – and by Ferruccio Barreca who, in 1966, thought he recognised the continuation of a Punic pattern in the way the buildings were organised and built.
The first partial topographic survey of the site was published in 1980, carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Nuoro. The site was excavated seven times between 1994 and 2000 in a project called “Operazione Nuraghe Mannu”, where over 700 volunteers, organised by the Superintendencey in collaboration with the E.S.I.T., the Archeologia Viva magazine and the Dorgali council.
The nuraghe itself was excavated and restored between 2002 and 2003. This allowed, through the excavation of the collapse of the tholos and the underlying layers, the complete clearance of the room and the stairwell and to bring into relief the monument’s architecture. In 2005, the Roman settlement was excavated, bringing to light two other Roman buildings.
Studies of the Nuraghe Mannu settlement are linked to the study of nuraghi and villages and the relationship between them; furthermore the site is an ideal context for the study of the final stages of the Nuragic culture between the start of the Phoenician settlements and Punic domination (mid-8th century BC / late 6th century BC); the excavation of the Roman civic settlement will also shed light on the ways and means by which Sardinia and particularly the Barbagia region was Romanised.