mercoledì 21 novembre 2012

The incredible case of the sherds from Orani and the archaic Tanit of Sardinia

by Atropa Belladonna
(Translated from a previous post, I thank Andrea Lisci for his kind collaboration)

On this page you'll find a brief preface from myself and, hugely more important, the story of sherds found at Orani (NU, Sardinia) in 1994, recalled on the magazine Nuoro Oggi by Giulio Chironi - one of the main players of this case story - in 1996. You can skip my preface at will, but I strongly recommend the reading of Chironi's chronicle: it won't take more than ten minutes. I can hardly stress how important this is, for two reasons: first, I hope it will cause you an adrenalin shot; second, for what I will illustrate in my preface, because  S'Arcu e is Forros is changing, once more, everything. And  once more puts eveything under discussion.  

Figura 1: a. Bronze pendant form the nuragic site of  S'Arcu e 
is Forros (XII-VII c. BC) . b. one of the four sherds from Orani
Here it is: the fourth find that impressed me at most amongst those recently shown by  M.A. Fadda and recovered at the nuragic site of S'Arcu e is Forros, in inner Sardinia (1). Besides the written amphora (2), the scarab (3), and the ghost rasp with tho letters incised, we have a bronze pendant in the shape of  a Tanit.  Let's read first how the archaeologist describes it: [..] a bronze pendant of the goddess Tanit* brought at the sanctuary of S’Arcu e is Forros  earlier than the Carthaginian period of Sardinia, given that the most recent finds of the hoard are dated to the VIII-VII century BC *Not everyone knows that…: Thanit. The most important divinity of Carthage, worshiped as patron of the city and its empire. Named Phanébalos, that is “Face of Baal”, her image was reported on the majority of Punic coins, but her origin might be more ancient […]. M.A. Fadda, 2012 (1).
I overlook here the self-confidence with which the scholar asserts that the object was brought there, given that the same author defines the site as the most important metallurgical center of Nuragic Sardinia, and it should at least have come to her mind that this bronze pendant might have been produced  locally. I also do not mention that it has long been known that Tanit-like signs are far more ancient than the Carthaginian period: I do not expect doctor  Fadda to read free-of-charge articles on that topic (4), but I do expect that an expert knows at least the works of  Sader and Teisser (5). 

This is not, however, the point: point is that this is a bronze object shaped as Tanit, uncovered at a Nuragic site (Shardana would Leonardo Melis say, Sardiano would answer Mikkelj Tzoroddu) and that the archaeologist does not even come to the idea that it is a fake: why? I think she should think about it, because 18 years ago - as witnessed by Giorgio Chironi  (vide infra)- she had in her own hands an evidence that Carthaginians did not bring to Sardinia the icon of Tanit: it was depicted on a sherd that the great archaeologist Giovanni Lilliu did not hesitate to index as nuragic; nuragic, for sure, but intentionally manipulated, for the good reason that it bore impossible signs.
At that time M.A. Fadda, echoing Lilliu, put immediately aside  the question. At that time this was still humanly -if not professionally- understandable, but presently? Actually, 18 years are quite a long time, it is difficult to remember even one's own words. Additionally, the sherds of  Orani have by now  left the scene, even if Gigi Sanna tries occasionally to bring them to light again(6). Disappeared where, one may ask, into a parallel universe? You can relax, they are in good hands: thay have been seen last time into the hands  of a collaborator of ex-superintendant Vincenzo Santoni (7, vide infra). It is solely for our well-being, to prevent the Malignant Falsifier, that damned foras-de-nosu - on that occasion disguised as a bold youngster - to divert us from the righteous path.

The story of the sherds from Orani, one of which bears, surprisingly but clearly, the same incipit of the Nora stele (figure 3,4),  is here summarized by Giulio Chrioni, in an article of 1996: two years after the finding (7). He gets quite astonished in front of the panic elicited by those unusual finds in otherwise well recognized scholars, by their incapability to face in a rational way novel and uncommon data, by how they become secretive and reticent, but, most importantly, by how they turn to bad faith. They even do not go and control the finding spot, they do not want to investigate the finds or try to date them, they do not try to understand how and when the signs were incised. They simply trust their subjective criteria of plausibility and likelihood, that have little if anything to do with quantitative science. They even become furious.

Where are the sherds now, why have they been hidden and where (if at all) are they kept? who was this collaborator of prof. Santoni to whom the sherds were handed over and who did never return them? and why did she keep the sherds? nothing has come out of the alabster chambers. 

Before leaving the scene to Giulio Chrioni, I'll take the priviledge to insert a short note. In 1986, Hölbl published, amongst dozens of other egyptianizing objects from Sardinia, a leonine seal from the Don Armeni collection, Sulcis. The amulet is incised on the base with two signs (Fig. 2a), that he reads dj-ankh = given life, a very common form on egyptian inscriptions (7). His comment is, to my understanding, extremely important:   "[..]a Tanit-shaped ankh sign […] perhaps in Punic West the phrase dj-ankh “given life” or “received life” was indeed related to the sign for Tanit.[..]". Not only the author makes a clear distinction as for the usage of this sign between Carthage/ Near East and Sardinia, but he also implies, I do not know if consciously or not, that the Tanit sign could be employed there as a writing character, interchangeably with a similar-but not identical-egyptian hieroglyph. To my knowledge this fact is not attested in Carthage. 

Figure 2: a. Base of a seal amulet, with hieroglyphic writing read by Hoelbl as "dj-ankh" = given life (8);, from the Don Armeni collection, Sulcis; l' amuleto proviene dalla collezione Don Armeni, Sulcis; b. lthe same formula  on a relief in the temple of  Khonsu at Karnak, featuring Ramesses III (1186–1155 BC); c. green stone tablet from Assemini (museum of  Cagliari?) (9): on the right, dj-ankh.
I leave now, without further delay  the word to Giulio Chironi and his story: a tragicomic chronicle, unfortunately still very timely.  Actually I still have a small delay: dr. Fadda, you have had during the last few years many opportunities to change the history of nuragic Sardinia, and to go yourself down to history. You have had in hand the written ceramic boatthe quoins of Nurdolethe epigraph  at the Museum of Teti, the inscribed amphora of S'Arcu e is Forros, and who knows what else. Instead of taking the opportunity to change history, you have undersold it, to the point that you have signed, without any convincing proof, the following sentence: "other Phoenicians who had joined the Philistines and, as the latter, lived within nuraghes together with local people [..] when the coronation of nuraghe Nurdole (X c. BC) was built, Philistines were present on site". 
In 1994 you were deeply convinced that a pre-punic Tanit found in Sardinia could only have been  a fake; in 2012 you have found, yourself, a pre-punic Tanit and you know for certain that it can't be a fake. You have, today, the professional and ethical duty to go back to those sherds, to verify their authenticity, to set right the hasty conclusions of 1994 and acknowledge that not only the Tanit signs (Fig.1), but also the alphabetic, very archaic inscription (Fig 3) could be original and genuine. If this is the case, you can forget concepts like the "canaanite amphora" (1), because G. Lilliu was convinced of one thing: those sherds were, according to him, manipulated, but for sure they were nuragic.
You can of course be happy not to go down in history, it's your call, but you cannot go on hiding the  most original history of Sardinia: it is not legitimate, it is a theft to Sardinia and to the rest of the world.

To everybody, enjoy your reading; color emphasis is mine. 

The absurd sherds of Orani: academic haughtiness or "Livornese" syndrome?
(from: Nuoro Oggi, Jan. 1996(7)
by Giulio Chironi

Nuoro Oggi, also in the last issue, hosted articles dedicated to archaeology, signed by eminent people, much more valued than the undersigned. It would thus be proper avoiding talking of this topic by a profane, or at least a non academic scholar, if it wouldn’t have happened a curious fact that induced me to think a lot about  academic science. Meanwhile I found out recently, with 2 years delay, about an article with signed by Giovanni Lilliu, that tells, resented but with zest, about 2 bold youngsters from Orani that introduced themselves to him, convinced to fool his old age but unaware of the absurdity of their counterfeiting.
Given that one of those “bold youngsters” was me, I'd like to tell how the things happened from the point of view of the main participants.
On April 30th 1994, professor Lilliu was in Orani, in the Auditorium of the Nivola foundation, holding a lecture a conference on the protosardinian religion.  Just before the conference, a young man from Orani, Angelo Nivola, showed me sherds that he found on his grandfather’s vineyard and that amazed me in such a way that I asked repeatedly to the guy assurance about their authenticity, even running the risk risking to offend him. Once I was persuaded of their authenticity, I convinced him to bring the fragments to the attention of the professor. At the end of the lecture, followed carefully by a  large audience, the guy, his father and myself, approached to professor and we gave him the sherds.
Lilliu put on his glasses and asked to the guy by which sort of nail he had made the signs.
"Why?" I've asked to the professor
"Because the sherd is nuragic!"
"Of course, I found it nearby a nuraghe"
"But this is Thanit"
"So it seems to me either”
Figure 3
The professor looked then absently to the other sherd, the one with phoenician letters and asked whether they were abstract signs, then he inspected the fragment more carefully and blurted out that Rome wasn't built in a day, clearly meaning that we, with our low level of education, were unaware of the absurdity of the thesis that we were proposing to a valued scholar as he was.
He seemed more amused than offended, but he probably thought further about it and got angry, given that some days after he wrote the article about the bold youngsters.  I didn't read it, but I can assure you it can only contain real nonsense, due to the fact that it was based on the erroneous assumption that the finds were faked.

In the next days I showed the sherds, through another person, to Doctor Maria Ausilia Fadda that let me know  that she was willing to meet the guy and explain him the reasons why those fragments could be nothing else than fakes. After that I gave the sherds to Attilio Mastino that showed them to a very learned epigraphist from Sassari, whose name I don't remember,  that recognized the letters, but  concluded that they were faked; then the sherds came to  a collaborator of professor Vincenzo Santoni, who didn't tell me anything about the pieces and she never returned them to me. 

This is the story.
What did those finds have of so much absurd and obscene to induce many learned professors to fill pages of newspaper with this topic? The professor will be amazed to know that I know well the reason for this scandal. Those sherds are scandalous because if they are authemntic, and they are, demonstrate that Rome can be better built in a day, through an extraordinary discovery, than in sixty years of accurate studies.

In one of the sherd, two symbols of rejoycying Tanit were depicted, in a second one a capsized human figure, in a third one very stylized human figure, in the fourth one an inscription with the same characters of the Nora stele. All at once, it was  demanded to the professor to review all the cornerstones of the officially reconstructed sardinian -and not only sardinian- protohistory.

Let's recall them:
1) Sardinians build nuraghes, sacred monuments, statues and tombs of sophisticated technique and artistic importance, but they  never reached the urban stage. Coast cities were built by Phoenicians and the Nora stele is the oldest evidence of their presence in Sardinia. This is the official picture that unfortunately collides with ancient sources. None of them attributed to the Phoenicians the foundation of any sardinian town, but nevertheless this is a deep-rooted opinion held by all scholars.
But if the graffiti on the sherd  found  in the middle of the Sardinia are authentic, and they are, it might be postulated that the Nora stele was written and erected by Sardinians and that Nora itself is a sardinian town, as hinted by its name and by the sacred well of the town itself.

2) Phoenicians occupied first the most important harbors  of Sardinia, then they went inland and occupied the entire  island, as derived from the excavations that recovered phoenicians artifacts all over the island, they destroyed nuraghes and built temples and fortresses, subsequently they were taken over by Carthaginians. The latter imposed to Sardinians their gods, beginning with their citi patroness, Thanit, in V century, to end with with Sid assimilated to Babay who will be Sardus Pater for th eRomans, courtesy of  the new lords Carthaginians to a poorly known local god.
Recognizing the authenticity of a double representation of the Carthage patron in a nuragic fragment, older than her  appearance in Carthage, could induce to think that Carthaginians borrow their divinity from Sardinians and not the other way around.
It is thus understandable the anger of the erudite professor, that mortified the young man and induced me think that the professor did not want to review a book that he thought he had writtens for the eternity.
The professor and the other  learned people  behaved like the erudite scholars with Galileo:
they were not willing to go and see.
I know very well that it wasn't easy to accept the physical existence of those sherds and I did not expect those erudite poeple to accept suddenly that all their certainities were not any more such,  but I did expect them to be scientifically serious and fair enough to go and check the situation; seriousness and fairness meant that, with all the skepticism imposed by the sensational case, they would go and see if other fragments of nuragic pottery were still in the vineyard. The bold youngster was very ready to show the spot  to the professor or to other learned people.
A explanations of the reality different than the fantasies that comes into my mind could be found, provided that one would start from the incontrovertible fact that the sherds are not were faked. It was preferred to stigmatize with dishonesty two young people that love their town and would never falsify anything for any reaosn, instead of reviewing the drafts of books ready for being printed.
I'm sorry for professor Lilliu and for Sardinia too.

(1) M.A. Fadda, S'arcu 'e is Forros, Nuragici, Filistei e Fenici fra i monti della Sardegna (con scheda di Giovanni Garbini), Archeologia viva, n.155 sett.-ott. 2012, pp.46 -57
(2) G. Sanna, Anfora con scritta di S'Arcu 'e is Forros. Garbini: in filisteo - fenicio. No, in puro nuragico,, 10.09.2012,
(4) A. Belladonna, Le “donnine” di Amun (e le altre) in Sardegna. 1a parte, Le “donnine” di Amun (e le altre) in Sardegna. 2a parte 12.06.2012,
(5) a. Sader, H. Iron Age Funerary Stelae from Lebanon. Cuadernos de Arqueología, 11, Eds. Bellaterra, 2005; b. B. Teissier, Egyptian Iconography on Syro-Palestinian Cylinder Seals of the Middle Bronze Age, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co KG, 1996
(6) G. Sanna, a. Il "coccio d'Orani", duro come il coccio,  E non sta zitto, 23.07. 2008; b. Scrittura nuragica: ecco il sistema. Forse unico nella storia della scrittura, 09.11.2011
 (7) Giulio Chironi, I cocci assurdi di Orani: presunzione accademica o sindrome livornese? In: Nuoro Oggi, Gennaio 1996, anno IX. 
(8) Günther Hölbl, Ägyptisches Kulturgut im phönikischen und punischen Sardinien, 2 vol. (Leiden: Brill 1986)
(9) Taramelli A., 1919, Assemini-Frammento di iscrizione egiziana rinvenuta in regione Su Pranu, in Scavi e Scoperte, pp. 160-161

Dear Gianfranco, Is there anything more bitter than that sentence "they were not willing to go and see"?  Yes perhaps the last sentence, the regret for the great archaeologist and for Sardinia itself. I do not need to tell you how much we miss your fine jusgement on this affair and its implications, and how strongly I would like to have a comment from you! 

As a matter of completeness I insert below (Figure 4) the epigraphic decipherement, by Gigi Sanna,  of the sherds reported in figs. 1 and 3. 

Figure 4: alphabetic letters on the sherds from Orani (modified from the panels 16 and 22 of the  2001-2012 Macomer exhibition, "Prima mostra didattica della documentazione scritta della scrittura nuragica (dall’Età del Bronzo Medio al I Ferro" . Note the  TRShSh  sequence (right), also found on the 1st line of the Nora stele.