Gianpaolo Piga, Department of Political Science, Communication, Engineering and Information Technologies, University of Sassari | Michele Guirguis, Department of History, University of Sassari


A series of graves belonging to the Phoenician period were investigated after the campaign excavation of 2007 A.D in the Phoenician-Punic necropolis of Monte Sirai (Carbonia, Sardinia, Italy). One tomb in particular (labeled T252) is presented here because of its uniqueness. Tomb 252 contained the cremated remains of an individual, probably male, and comparison of the excavation records alongside reconstruction of the bone material itself makes clear that the individual was cremated in a prone position.

There are very few cases of prone burials across Spain, France, Germany and Italy, but most relate to the Roman period. For instance, in the region of Veneto (Italy) the practice of prone burial appears to be a tradition of long duration and feature the oldest cases in Italy (Zamboni, Zanoni 2010).

The Monte Sirai example represents the first reported case of a prone cremation in Europe. Some cases of prone or anomalous positions associated to the Phoenician age were found in the necropolis of Khalde in the south of Beirut (Saïdah 1966), the Phoenician necropolis of Lagos (Málaga) (Aubet 1995) and the necropolis from Himera, in the northern-central coast of Sicily (Vassallo 2005).

The reasons that justify this particular position, perhaps linked to social factors, are difficult to understand because of their specificity. No other apparent case of anomalous deposition was observed in Monte Sirai necropolis and no known cases in Sardinia at the moment. However, it was observed in the Monte Sirai necropolis several graves with skeletons covered with rocks. This was interpreted as a ritualistic gesture intended to contain within the tomb the spirits of the dead (called Rephaim) so they could not bother the living (Simmer 1982; Bartoloni 2000).

A possible explanation might be related to the winding of the body in a shroud, as described in the rite of primary incineration by Bartoloni (2000), and a subsequent accidental and incorrect positioning on the pyre. This might also be responsible for the observed difference in temperature to which some bones of the body turned out to be subjected. Of course another plausible hypothesis may be the intentional prone deposition of the body during the incineration ritual, was perhaps to emphasize some diversity of the individual within the community.

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