Sardinia

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The Upper Palaeolithic record of Sardinia is much more elusive than the Sicilian one (Mussi et al. in press). The island, of 24, 000 km2, lies 120 km west of the Italian peninsula, and 185 km north of Africa. At the Last Glacial Maximum it merged with modern Corsica, and the resulting island was by then the largest in the Mediterranean (Caloi and Malatesta 1974; Fierro et al. 1981; Oser et al. 1980). The Sardo-Corsican island was severed from peninsular Italy by an arm of the sea, which was everywhere wider than 7 km.

Because of constant insularity, and of the distance from the mainland, during the Wnal Upper Pleistocene the fauna was much more unbalanced than in Sicily, and included exclusively endemic species (Mussi et al. in press). The only sizeable terrestrial mammals were Prolagus sardus, a lagomorph looking like a short-eared hare; Megaceroides cazioti, a cervid the size of a fallow deer; and a little canid, Cynotherium sardous.

Direct evidence of human peopling at this time is limited to a fragmentary phalanx from Grotta Corbeddu. It was retrieved by sieving from a deposit which, higher up in the stratigraphic sequence, is radiocarbon-dated between 12,000 and 16,000 ka bp (uncalibrated) (Sondaar et al. 1995). No other archaeological remains were found, and criticism of the 'Upper Palaeolithic' of Grotta Corbeddu was expressed by D. Vigne (1996). More recently, geo-morphological and archaeological investigation in the Campidano plain of south-western Sardinia led to the discovery of a laminar industry within eolian deposits at Santa Maria Is Acquas, next to Sardara (Mussi and Melis 2002). On the surface, Neolithic remains are plentiful. The sands overlying the lithic implements were subsequently dated to 12,000 + 3,000 bp by optically stimulated luminescence (Mussi et al. in press).

Fig. 10.7. Macomer: the theriogynous figurine with a Prolagus sardus head

Accordingly, there is some evidence, if slim, of human colonization at a time when Sardinia and Corsica2 were already distinct islands. Not surprisingly, artistic remains are limited to a single find, the so-called Venere di Macomer or Macomer Venus, which was found before the age of scientific archaeology. In 1949, a small cave on the outskirts of Macomer, Wlled with archaeological deposits, was nearly emptied by the landlord, before the Soprintendenza3 was made aware of it, and his activity was stopped (Pesce 1949). There are Roman materials, but far more numerous are the Eneolithic implements, which belong to the Cultura di San Michele (Lilliu 1966). The only Wnd which does not Wt into this scheme is a female statuette, 134 mm long,4 carved out of a lava fragment, which was apparently found in a different part of the deposit5 (Pesce 1949).

2 Upper Palaeolithic sites have not been discovered in Corsica (Vigne 1996).

3 The Italian territory is subdivided into a number of regions. In each there is a Soprinten-denza which controls and cares for archaeological and palaeontological remains, which are state-owned even if discovered on private land.

4 The Wgurine is incomplete, because of recent fractures.

5 A few flaked stone tools were possibly associated with the statuette (Mussi 2003).

It is a unique Wnd, so far unparalleled in the growing corpus of Neolithic and Eneolithic stone Wgurines of Sardinia. This asymmetrical statuette, with voluminous buttocks and an animal head, has been tentatively attributed to the final Upper Palaeolithic on stylistic grounds (Mussi 2003) (Fig. 10.7). Female Wgurines, engravings, and pendants, with small breasts, or lacking breasts altogether, and with protruding buttocks which give them a peculiar twisted shape, are known in western and central Europe from a number of Magdalenian sites (Bosinski 1991). The Venus of Macomer fits well into this group. The head, however, is better seen as representing the extinct Prolagus sardus. This, in turn, allows comparisons with the therianthropic6 representations which started to be produced in the EUP. They are well known in the LUP, as at Tolentino (Massi et al. 1997), Las Caldas (Corchon Rodriguez 1990), La Madeleine (Delporte 1993).

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