History of the excavations
As early as the 17th century the necropolises in Tharros were a destination for treasure hunters, attracted by the richness of the burial goods. However, it was not until the 19th century that the exploration and excavation of the necropolis areas was begun, albeit with non-scientific interventions that led to the destruction of parts of the tombs and the dispersion of materials. The first reports of the excavations carried out in the southern necropolis date back to the 1830s. Not until 1850, however, was the first scientific survey conducted by the Canon Giovanni Spano, the results of which were promptly published in the Notizie sull’antica città di Tharros (News of the Ancient Town of Tharros). The excavations conducted on the site of the necropolis shortly thereafter by the English Lord Vernon, unleashed a sort of “gold rush” that led about five hundred men of Cabras and neighboring villages to carry out the most severe looting ever witnessed at the necropolis. No less detrimental was the work of the then Chief of the Royal Museum of Cagliari, Gaetano Cara, the director of official excavations in the burial area between 1853 and 1856, who oversaw the illegal sale of a large collection of materials recovered in the course of his research. Part of the proceeds went to the British Museum of London but it was nevertheless devastating to the site.
Between 1885 and 1886, Filippo Nissardi, the Royal Inspector of Antiquities, carried out excavations in Capo S. Marco, which resulted in the creation of an accurate topographic survey of the area of Tharros, from the northern necropolis to the end of the Cape. After a very busy period of excavations during the 19th century, there were no major excavations conducted at Tharros for over half a century.
The resumption of excavations in 1956 was due to the stubborn will of the then Superintendent Gennaro Pesce. From 1956 to 1964, Pesce was able to excavate large tracts of the Punic-Roman city, using funds received from the Bank of the Southern Regions. Following Pesce’s excavation, the archaeologist Ferruccio Barreca excavated the so called temple of Demeter, and the fortifications of Murru Mannu.
From 1974 to 1996, another important research effort was undertaken as a joint mission of the Institute for the Phoenician and Punic Civilization of the CNR (National Research Centre) of Rome and the Archaeological Superintendence of Cagliari and Oristano (the government department responsible for archeological monuments and treasures). This effort was directed in the first year by A. Ciasca, subsequently by E. Acquaro, and finally by M.T. Francisi. In the first phase, the area of the Tophet was fully researched and excavated, with the consequent recovery of thousands of urns and hundreds of stelae, many of which are now on display at the Museum of Cabras. At the end of the 1980s the adjacent handicraft area was excavated, resulting in discoveries of significant scientific importance, thanks to the contribution of archaeometric analysis, with respect to the use of iron metallurgy in the Punic age.
During this same time period, the city of Tharros was the subject of the CNR Project on Cultural Heritage, an interdisciplinary collaboration that discussed issues related to the degradation and conservation of the ancient structures of Tharros and more generally, of the surrounding area.
Led by a joint mission of the Archaeological Superintendence and the University of Bologna in collaboration with the University of Cagliari, systematic research in the southern necropolis resumed in 2001 and continued until 2004. This research led to the discovery of over one hundred tombs from the Phoenician and Punic periods, which has been documented in a collection of very important data used in further research of the funerary rituals of the necropolis.
From 2009 to 2013, the northern necropolis of the village of San Giovanni di Sinis was excavated by the University of Cagliari under the direction of Carla Del Vais. The most significant result from this excavation was the discovery of an almost pristine Phoenician funerary section with cremation burial pits dug in the sand, dating from the last quarter of the 7th century BC and the first half of the 6th.
In 2012, the University of Bologna, under the direction of A.C. Fariselli, resumed research on the southern necropolis. This excavation, still in progress, has resulted in the discovery of numerous Punic burial chambers and pits carved in the rocky bank and the retrieval of a variety of burial goods.