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Megalithic circles of Li Muri

Throughout the territory of Gallura (with the exception of a few marginal cases), there are no "domus de janas", the typical subterranean tombs of the Early Neolithic Age (3400-3200 B.C.) and the early Copper Age (3200-2850 B.C.): it is likely that their role in this area was taken on by small dolmen and other megalithic tombs, such as the so-called "circles", often gathered together in necropolis.

Among the archaeological monuments of eastern Gallura, the site of Li Muri, located in the countryside of Arzachena, is one of the most interesting examples of Sardinian Megaliths, which appeared with the culture of San Ciriaco, at the moment when there was a change in the Neolithic society through an increase in commercial trade and, with it, in social relationships (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 - The site (photo Unicity S.p.A.).

The necropolis consists of four circular tombs and a small passage grave, called allée couverte, and was discovered in 1939 by a primary school teacher Michele Ruzzittu (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 - The archaeological excavation (from ANTONA RUJU, CERUTI 1992, p. 22, fig. 1).

Circle type burials consist of a series of masonry circles, with a simple funerary quadrangular stone chamber, called cista, placed at the centre, whose walls were made of four large slabs fixed vertically in the ground (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 - Plan (from ANTONA, LO SCHIAVO, PERRA 2001, p. 242, fig. 1).

All the cistas had a cover slab, which has now disappeared (fig. 4).

Fig. 4 - Funerary circle No 2 (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

Once closed, the cistas were covered by a mound of earth in order to form a kind of artificial mound whose diameter varied between 5,30 and 8,50 metres (fig. 5).

Fig. 5 - Rendering of the funerary circles (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

The chamber tomb, located on the periphery in relation to the circles, was built during the Middle Bronze Age on the ruins of an earlier Neolithic burial mound. It is a burial which consists of a rectangular corridor formed by boulders placed like teeth; the cover slabs have disappeared (fig. 6).

Fig. 6 - Tomb n. 5 (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

The standing stones (menhirs) were stones which possessed a sacred value and were placed at the tangent points between the circles, marking the tombs (fig. 7).

Fig. 7 - Menhir and Lithic box for ritual offerings (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

One of these, a non-iconic stele, isolated from the others, is preserved in a stone box (fig. 8).

Fig. 8 - Bethel next to the chamber tomb (photo by Unicity S.p.A.).

There are also three stone boxes, found near the funerary circles, probably intended to receive offers related to the cult of the dead. Within each cista, the deceased probably lay in a foetal position.

Because of the acidity of the granite soil, only very few skeletal remains are preserved.

It is therefore very difficult not only to reconstruct the rituals which were practiced, but also to determine the number of individuals buried and the human ethnic group to which they belong.

Salvatore Puglisi, who excavated the necropolis suggested that the stone cista only contained the remains of a single deceased. The presence of stones with traces of red ochre suggested that they were used in order to prepare a strongly symbolic dye.

Ochre was associated with blood and had the meaning of regeneration, so much so that it was smeared on the body of the deceased with a view to rebirth in the afterlife. It is likely that this ritual was also practiced in Li Muri.

Among the artefacts housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari and the Archaeological Museum GA Sanna, there is a soapstone bowl, together with polished axes, apple-shaped spheroids, several necklace beads and small flint knives (figs. 9-10).

Fig. 9 - Carenated cup with spool-shaped soapstone handles (from LILLIU 1999, fig. 336, p. 340).
Fig. 10 - Lithic axe, apple-shaped spheroid and soapstone necklace (from ANTONA 2013).

The cup’s rigid and essential form and the shape of the handle recall the potteries from Sicily, southern Italy and Malta.

The apple-shaped spheroids reproduce examples from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages of Knossos. It is believed that these findings of Li Muri had been imported through trade from Crete, from where the soapstone itself could also have been imported.

In addition to this, the crushed olive-shaped necklace beads made of soapstone and the semi-precious stones from the necropolis of Li Muri recall the shape of the gold granules of the collars of Mochlos in Crete. All these non-accidental coincidences indicate that the culture of Arzachena participated in the commercial and cultural circulation phenomena which occurred along the great East-West route of the Mediterranean Sea.

The remains of a hut village, found in the area of Pilastru, about 600 metres as the crow flies from Li Muri, may be those of the village pertinent to the necropolis. During the study history, the site gave its name to a culture which is considered unique in its own right: that "of the megalithic circles" or "of Arzachena" (second half of the fifth millennium B.C.).

From an architectural and artefact point of view, the site has close comparisons with the tombs called coffres found in Southern Corsica, in which rich funerary goods of Sardinian obsidian artefacts and other lithic objects were found, the evidence of the close link between Gallura and the south of Corsica, which are only separated by an eight-mile stretch of sea.


  • ANTONA RUIU A., La necropoli di Li Muri, in ANTONA RUIU A., FERRARESE CERUTI M.L., Il nuraghe Albucciu e i monumenti di Arzachena, Guide e itinerari, 19, Sassari 1992, pp. 25-29.
  • ANTONA A., Arzachena. Pietre senza tempo, Sassari 2013, pp. 72-83.
  • CASTALDI E., Arzachena. Loc. Li Muri, in I Sardi. La Sardegna dal Paleolitico all’Età Romana, Milano 1984, pp. 284-285.
  • LILLIU G., La civiltà dei Sardi. Dal Paleolitico all’età dei nuraghi, Torino 1988, pp. 65-72, 193 sgg.
  • LILLIU G., Arte e religione della Sardegna prenuragica, Sassari 1999, p. 80, 83, 85, 137, 139, 143, 340, 415, 420, 421.
  • MORAVETTI A., ALVITO G., Sardegna archeologica vista dal cielo. Dai circoli megalitici alle torri nuragiche, Sassari 2010, pp. 20-21, figg. 5-6.


Scientific coordination
dr. Emanuela Atzeni