A Possible Refugee Settlement in Late Third-Millennium BC Sardinia


  • Gary Webster Independent Scholar



archaeology of refugees, Bell Beaker, forced migration, Mediterranean prehistory, refugee settlement, Sardinian prehistory


The materiality of forced migration and resettlement have understandably moved to the forefront of archaeological research recently, although data from prehistoric refugia remain limited. One potentially informative example is the west Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where remains of the later third millennium BC document discontinuities associated with the appearance of Bell Beaker elements in local cultural modalities. Employing an augmented version of Aaron Burke’s ethnographically based approach, this study examines the Sardinian record, first toward identifying the contexts and factors that may have induced forced migration, such as agonistic relations with Beaker-bearing entities, then toward identifying likely refugia. Diagnostic correlates are derived in terms of the material consequences of adaptations to anthropologically documented risks encountered by refugees (e.g. landlessness, homelessness, marginalization). On these criteria, the eastern Sardinian settlement of Sa Sedda de Biriai in Oliena is identified and investigated as a possible refuge settlement of the Monte Claro culture. Evidence is marshalled with the aim of discovering temporal, spatial and material patterns consistent with Burke’s model in an augmented form, emphasizing non-local source venues, homelands or pre-flight affiliations, pre-flight or transitional objects, post-flight/refuge integrative expressions, security-adapted house architecture, residential enclaves or districts and removals of iconic pre-flight cult spaces. The social identity of the bearers of Beaker material culture on Sardinia is discussed briefly.

Author Biography

Gary Webster, Independent Scholar

Gary Webster is retired Associate Professor of Anthropology (Pennsylvania State University) and Docent in Archaeology (Umeå University, Sweden). He was director of the Pennsylvania State University Sardinia Research Program
between 1985 and 2000 and currently lives in Athens, Greece.


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How to Cite

Webster, G. (2021). Biriai: A Possible Refugee Settlement in Late Third-Millennium BC Sardinia. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 34(1), 3–27.