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The "colours of death": the use of red ochre in the funerary rituals of the Neolithic Age

Ochre is an earth mineral (an earthy variety of Hematite) used for preparing dyeing substances (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 - Red Ochre (from

As part of the funeral ritual of Li Muri, the discovery of pebbles with traces of this dye is an element which may be attributed to ritual practices linked to finds of red ochre pulverisation, an intensely symbolically valuable pigment linked to the regeneration of the deceased and to the colour of blood.

Red ochre was also found in Sardinian Neolithic burials and it has a precise meaning in the funerary rituals documented for example, in the tombs of the underground necropolis of the Middle Neolithic age (4800-4450 B.C., through calibrated C14 analysis conducted on the skeletons) of Cuccuru S'Arriu in Cabras: in grave no. 387, the deceased was lying in a foetal position with the statuette placed in his right hand; the funerary articles were arranged all around the body; inside a bowl there were two open shells encrusted with red ochre, traces of which were also present on the skeleton and on the funerary objects (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 - Underground grave no. 387 of Cuccuru S’Arriu in Cabras (from SANTONI 1988).

Paintings obtained through the use of ochre are also preserved on the walls of numerous domus de Janas of Sardinia (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 - Painted tomb of the necropolis domus de janas of Mandra Antine in Thiesi (from TANDA 1985, fig. 30b, p. 151).


  • 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 RUIU A., LO SCHIAVO F., PERRA M., I tumuli nella Sardegna preistorica e protostorica, in A. Naso (a cura di), Tumuli e sepolture monumentali nella protostoria europea, Atti del convegno internazionale, Celano 21-24 settembre 2000, RGZM-Tagungen, Band 5, Mainz 2011, pp. 237-258.
  • ANTONA RUIU A., Arzachena. Pietre senza tempo, Sassari 2013, pp. 72-83.
  • SANTONI V., Le tombe neolitiche di Cuccuru S’Arriu di Cabras, in Quaderni didattici della Soprintendenza Archeologica per le province di Cagliari e Oristano, 1, Cagliari 1988
  • TANDA G., L'Arte delle domus de janas nelle immagini di Jngeborg Mangold, Sassari 1985, pp. 148-152.