The tophet, discovered in 1962, is located behind the fortifications in the northern sector of the hill of Su Murru Mannu.
The tophet is an open-air sanctuary, generally devoid of monumental structures and surrounded by a sacred enclosure in which ceramic urns containing the burnt bones of children and animals were laid. From the 6th century BC the single urns or those in groups are found together with hundreds of sandstone stelae and cippi, characteristic votive monuments often representing small temples and divine symbols of Punic religion. The sanctuary, as the numerous inscriptions on the stelae show, was dedicated to two gods, one male, Baal Hammon, and one female, Tanit. This kind of sanctuary is documented only in the central Mediterranean area (north-eastern Africa, Sicily and Sardinia), which is directly related to Carthage.
Until the 1980s, the sanctuary was considered the location where children were sacrificed as suggested by several biblical passages mentioning a place near Jerusalem called Tophet where children “were passed through the fire”. The analysis carried out on the cremated remains, which even showed the presence of fetuses, has contributed to a general reconsideration of the problem. Some scholars, in fact, consider the hypothesis that the tophet rather than a place of sacrifice is a resting place for the cremated remains of stillborn children or those who died at a very early age before they had undergone a “rite of passage”. They were purified by fire, and then buried in a different cemetery from the one reserved for the ordinary dead, because they had not yet been received into the community of adults. Recently the hypothesis of the practice of human sacrifice has been revived.
The tophet of Tharros was built upon the remains of the already abandoned Nuragic village after it had been abandoned. The thousands of terracotta urns (jugs, jars, pots), found with a few hundred sandstone stelae, date from the late 7th century BC to the beginning of the Roman Republican era. The urns containing the burnt bones, mostly of infants between 0 and 6 months old or very rarely children up to 5 years of age, were associated in some cases (one third of the cases) with small bones of sheep (baby lambs and goat kids), apparently sacrificed to the deity; only in 20% of the contents of the urns analyzed were exclusively found the remains of small sheep, often together with bones of adult animals.
Deities were depicted on the stelae as aniconic or anthropomorphic figures, and often placed into small Egyptianising aediculae (small shrines characterized by architectural elements of Egyptian type).
Currently only the huts of the Nuragic village and a basement made of reutilised elements from the tophet are visible (stools, fragments of votive monuments, blocks).