Sardinia is noted for its prehistory, in particular Neolithic burialritual monuments and a series of curious rock-cut tombs known as 'domus de janas' (houses for the fairies). One of these recently excavated rock-cut sites is now at the centre of a major controversy.

A ROOM FULL OF SPENDOUR The story so far deals with a recently discovered and excavated site locally known as 'Tomba della scacchiera' or the 'Chequered tomb', so-named after the discoverers record a blue and white chequer design across the ceiling. But that is not all that is present within the confines of the chamber areas!

read on . . .

The site was recently reported within several specialist archaeology websites including Past Horizons by two investigative journalists – Diego Meozzi and Paola Arosio. The story goes that a Mr Antonello Porcu, the owner of a nearby farm showed the reporters a series of striking images he had taken in 2009 whilst the site was being excavated. Mr Porcu's land lies next to a place called Tenuta Mariani, where a prehistoric necropolis was discovered in 2002. By 2007, the Bonorva Municipality received funding to survey the archaeological sites within that area. The local cooperative was commissioned to undertake the survey along with archaeologist Francesco Sartor appointed by the Soprintendenza Archeologica for Nuoro and Sassari (Italian Ministry for Heritage). Following the initial survey, a four-month excavation programme was undertaken the following year at the Chequered Tomb (officially known as Sa Pala Larga number 7) under the supervision of archaeologist Francesco Sartor. During the excavation a passage leading to a possible burial chamber was discovered. So inquisitive, Mr Porcu and his brother couldn't resist a look and, under a groundsheet placed by the excavators, were the façade and an entrance that led to a rock-cut passage and a massive chamber with three side cells beyond; the walls of which were painted with curvilinear and rectilinear symbols. Also present were a series of large bull heads, carved along the main wall of the chamber. The ceiling stands around 1.70m tall and was painted in blue and white pigments. However, the most striking element of the surviving rockart is a set of seven interconnecting large red spirals painted in a vibrant red ochre. Although little is known about the people who constructed, decorated and venerated this tomb, it believed that it dates to the so-called Ozieri culture (3800 to 2900 BCE). LOST WORLDS, VANQUISHED IDEAS Following the 'unofficial' visit of Mr Porcu, he informed the Mayor of Bonorva about this significant discovery. However, the Mayor knew nothing of the discovery, from neither the archaeologist nor the official representatives of the Soprintendenza. Furthermore, when the excavation ended a massive concrete block had been placed in front of the entrance of the tomb preventing access, thus sealing the tomb from the outside world and the gaze of local people and scholars (including rock-art specialists). In addition to filling-in the entrance,

the excavators had covered most of the outside surface of the tomb area with concrete, further destroying the context of the site. According to the officials, this act was done in order to protect the tomb from looters. However, more disturbing for the archaeology is the potential damage to the fabric of the tomb, especially when using a wet corrosive substance such as concrete against, say, limestone. The sealing of the monument may also have an adverse effect on the microclimate of the tomb and its artistic treasure. It appears that this so-called act of crime prevention has occurred at other nearby tombs (e.g. Sa Pala Larga, where similar rock-art including a 'treeof-life' lies hidden from view). Despite the lack of funding to properly conserve, preserve and display the outstanding secrets of these monuments they are nonetheless of immense importance to the local, national and international academic community as well as the local population. Indeed, the paintings themselves are equal to those within the Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni, Malta. Surely, sealing a monument such as this only fuels the inquisitive mind of the looter. There are numerous other ways of protecting this most important heritage asset; uppermost is education. LET'S DO SOMETHING The sooner the archaeological world is made aware of this and other decorated monuments in the locality the better. We therefore call on the outside world to first of all marvel at the by-chance images made by Mr Porcu and urge the Sardinian authorities to act quickly. We suggest that an international conference is called to collaboratively discuss the issues of conservation, preservation and display as a priority. The academic world and the people whose ancestors are buried here, have a right to stare and marvel at these prehistoric wonders. They should not be restricted to a few chance images taken unofficially during an excavation programme in 2009. Surely, we can do better than this, can't we?

Diego Meozzi (email: Paola Arosio (email: Professor dr. George Nash (email:

Tomba della scacchiera


Photos © Antonello Porcu

The European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (of which Italy is a signatory), commonly known as the Valletta Convention states:
Collection and dissemination of scientific information Article 7 For the purpose of facilitating the study of, and dissemination of knowledge about, archaeological discoveries, each Party undertakes: i) to make or bring up to date surveys, inventories and maps of archaeological sites i) in the areas within its jurisdiction; ii) to take all practical measures to ensure the drafting, following archaeological ii) operations, of a publishable scientific summary record before the necessary ii) comprehensive publication of specialised studies. Article 8 Each Party undertakes: i) to facilitate the national and international exchange of elements of the I) archaeological heritage for professional scientific purposes while taking I) appropriate steps to ensure that such circulation in no way prejudices the cultural I) and scientific value of those elements; ii) to promote the pooling of information on archaeological research and excavations ii) in progress and to contribute to the organisation of international research ii) programmes. Promotion of public awareness Article 9 Each Party undertakes: i) to conduct educational actions with a view to rousing and developing an I) awareness in public opinion of the value of the archaeological heritage for I) understanding the past and of the threats to this heritage; ii) to promote public access to important elements of its archaeological heritage, ii) especially sites, and encourage the display to the public of suitable selections of ii) archaeological objects.

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