The two known Phoenician and Punic cemeteries are located one on the south of the city of Capo S. Marco, the other at the north of the town of San Giovanni of Sinis. The southern necropolis was excavated and to a great extent plundered during the nineteenth century, but it has also been subject to regular excavation since 2001. The northern necropolis, less well-known and apparently less extensive than the other, was probably sacked during the nineteenth century but by the eighties and since 2009 has been properly excavated.
The two areas shared the same type of burial tombs and funerary practices.
During the Phoenician age (7th-6th centuries BC) the most commonly used funerary practice was incineration, both through primary and secondary depositions. In the case of primary deposition the deceased was cremated in the same grave, oblong in shape and large enough to accommodate the funeral pyre upon which the corpse was laid. When the combustion was complete, the bones of the deceased were deposited in an anatomical position at the bottom of the pit, together with the remains of the burnt wood. Once the funerary goods were set in the pit, the grave was filled up and then often sealed (preserved) with thick slabs.
In the case of secondary deposition, the dead were cremated in a different place called ustrinum. After the cremation of the dead body on the funeral pyre, the bones were collected and placed in the tomb, most often a simple pit or, more rarely, a lithic cist (a “box” made up of sandstone slabs); the bones were usually laid directly on the bottom of the pit or, more rarely in ceramic vases (urns), accompanied by grave goods consisting of a series of ritual vessels and of the deceased’s personal possessions and objects of adornment (jewelry, scarabs, amulets, weapons).
During the Punic age, with the rise of the Carthaginian power, cremation was replaced by the practice of interment. It has long been supposed that such a ritual change suddenly occurred in the second half of the sixth century BC, but the identification of some of the oldest graves has recently suggested that this process had already started at the end of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century, so that the prevailing practice of incineration had been supplanted by inhumation during the sixth century.
Following the practice of inhumation new tomb types, chambers and pits carved in the rock, were introduced. The first included a rectangular compartment for access (dromos), usually equipped with a flight of steps to facilitate descent, and a rather simple square chamber, sometimes with niches in the walls and, more rarely, with pits dug in the floor. The room was typically closed with a slab of sandstone while the compartment for access was entirely filled in with the material from the excavation (fragments of sandstone), mixed with sand and earth. The pit tombs, however, characterized by variable depth and a parallelepiped shape, at the entrance often had the set-offs recesses indentations necessary for the accommodation of the cover lid, typically consisting of juxtaposed sandstone slabs, more rarely monolithic lids that have a double sloping top with a small altar shrine. The deceased, who were always in a supine position with their arms along the body or crossed upon their chest, could be placed directly on the floor surface or inside wooden coffins, from which only nails and metal coffer pins have been preserved. Inside the tombs were deposited rich funeral goods including ceramic vessels and objects of personal adornment. The area of the cemetery had to be well preserved, accessible to the funerary rituals, perhaps even periodical, and had to be characterized by the presence of gravestones set up over the different graves.
In Roman times the burial areas were much more extensive than in the previous age and occupied almost the entire western coast of the peninsula from Capo S. Marco to S. Giovanni di Sinis and the road out of the city.
This period is characterized by an occasional reutilization of Punic tombs, but even new tomb types are mostly documented, such as “Capuchin” style burials, that is tombs covered with juxtaposed tiles, earth graves, mausoleums, “a cupa” tombs , i.e. covered with semi-cylindrical elements, lythic sarcophagus tombs, etc. At different stages of this long period both cremation and inhumation burial have been documented.
Significant groups of Roman burials were discovered in the moat of the fortifications of Murru Mannu, no longer in use in the early Imperial age, on the southern slope of the hill of San Giovanni and around the church of San Giovanni.