Italy Prehistory – Paleolithic

Italy Prehistory - Paleolithic

The general discussions carried out under the headings concerning the various prehistoric civilizations (Palaeolithic, Chelléan, Acheulean, Moustérian, Aurignacian, Grimaldian, Myolithic, Campignan, Neolithic, Aeneolithic, Villanovan, Bronze, Iron, etc.) more or less extensive information on the cultural events of Italy, but above all the particular discussions dedicated to the individual Italian regions require that an absolutely synthetic picture be drawn here, almost a summary of the more detailed regional discussions. Proper emphasis will be given only to the problems which, in the present state of studies, must be considered more essential.

Paleolithic. – Contrary to T. Mommsen’s denial, according to which the existence of man in Italy was not to be considered older than the cultivation of fields and metalworking, the positive proofs of the human presence on our peninsula since the early Pleistocene times they soon began with the flints collected in the Imola area by G. Scarabelli, in the middle of the last century; these tests increased more and more arriving at the methodical explorations of the first decades of our century, with the possession of the precious aid of stratigraphic and paleontological data.

The characteristic industries of the lower and middle Paleolithic, that is that of the  amygdaloids  (chelléana-acheuleana) and that of the  retouched splinters  (moustériana), are not only known to us by means of many surface or sporadic finds, but above all by regular excavations in intact strata. and safe (Agro Venosino, Capri, Valle del Liri for the first; lower layers of the Grimaldi Caves, Caverna Pocala nel Triestino, etc., for the second).

Lately, investigations in Lucania have enriched the picture of Italian Pleistocene life even more, with the discovery in the Loretello cave (Venosa) of a layer with rough chipped flints comparable to those of the industry called by A. Commont prechelléana (second and third terrace in Saint-Acheul): the position of the layer lower than that of Terranera di Venosa, with which it also coordinates, and the association with fossil fauna characteristic of the oldest Quaternary, prove that the human deposit of Loretello, according to Rellini and D’Erasmo, is the oldest so far in the peninsula, attesting to a pre-Amygdalian horizon (see bibl.).

The two great industries of the lower and middle Paleolithic are variously distributed. That of the amygdaloids so far missing in northern Italy, with the exception of the hills of the Imola area (terraces of the Santerno, geographically linked to the Apennine center); it is widely represented in the Apennine and Adriatic middle Italy and in Lucania (starting from Forlivese, especially in Umbria, in the Marches, in Abruzzo), it is present in the Liri Valley, in Capri, in Benevento, on the Gargano, in Puglia . So far it is absent from Calabria, and is missing in the islands, except for a single and controversial artifact collected at Alcamo in Sicily.

But this amygdalar industry, which seems to be a more particular heritage of the mountain regions and more widespread on the Adriatic side, (not counting the advanced position of Capri, the only example of jasper, more western, collected in Montepulciano, can be considered of Umbrian origin, like a floating amygdala collected at Ponte Molle in Rome), it is found almost everywhere associated or mixed with Moustérian-type splinters. This association appears to be almost regular in the Imola area, in Umbria and in the Marche, in the Vibrata valley, on the Gargano, and also in the Agro Materano (where, however, the level of the deposit was different); but there are also layers with pure and only amygdaloid material, in Capri and Terranera di Venosa and Sansanello (Lucania). The Venosa basin first, with the excavations of 1914,

The industry of retouched splinters, or moustériana, is even more widespread: in addition to the areas already indicated, where it mixes with the amygdalare, it is present in the Triestine Karst (Grotta Pocala) and in the Veneto (Asolo), in western Emilia ( Traversetolo and Lesignano de ‘Bagni, in the Parma area; Val d’Enza), in Liguria (lower layers of the 1st-4th, 6th, 9th Grimaldi caves; Finalese-Loanese caves such as the Tana del Colombo), in the Apuan Alps, in Tuscany (upper Valdarno, Val di Chiana), in Lazio (especially lower Tiber Valley and Aniene), and in a cave in Torre di Scalea (Cosenza). Controversial is the question of the presence of authentic Moustérian artefacts in some Sicilian cave (eg, Carburànceli near Palermo, S. Teodoro in the province of Messina) where the subsequent myolithic industry overlaps abundantly.

Less uniform than the previous one, this Moustérian industry presents itself with a variety of aspects. The artifacts of the Grimaldi Caves (eg, Caverna del Principe) are typical and comparable with the classic French Moustérian (according to some the superior); and the finds of many peninsular caves (Liguria, the Apuan Alps, Valle del Liri, Pocala, etc.) are more or less connected to them in terms of shape and processing technique. However, the appearance of the flints from the Emilian terraces is quite different, notable for their larger size, so as to legitimize the denomination of Moustériano “macrolitico” (Parma, Reggio E.), and also for the rough workmanship (Imolese ). Likewise, some special form, eg. pedunculate, it offers the abundant material of the Materano.

Here too there are pure layers, where without mixing with amygdaloids, the splinters appear exclusive (Liguria, western Emilia, Lazio, Sicily). But more important is the association of Moustérian artefacts, in the Grimaldi Caves and in the southern deposits, with warm climate fauna, the same one that accompanies the amygdaloids: it is an argument to support the contemporaneity, at least partially, of the two industries which, variously distributed, even if mixed in most of the peninsula, especially in the mountainous areas, they are also exclusive in some layers, Pigorini is led to suppose that they are produced by two distinct ethnic currents.

Attempts made to establish an exact stratigraphic and chronological position have not been successful; and it is also impossible to determine the way into the peninsula of the two cultures.

No human remains relating to the former; but for the Moustériana we have the first human fossils, with the skull discovered by I. Cocchi, in 1867, in the Pliocene clays of Olmo (Arezzo), the subject of discussion, and above all with the “Neanderthaloid” skull recently collected at the gates of Rome , on the left of the Aniene.

The question of the existence in Italy of an upper Paleolithic has been discussed at length and lively, above all supported by A. Mochi, who even tried to frame the Italian Pleistocene industries rigidly in the classic system of De Mortillet, exceeding; but the documentation of the third fundamental industry, that of  blades  (or narrow and slender blades, the  Klingenkultur of the Germans), associated with mutated fossil fauna, of cold climate, is now imposing. The upper layers of the famous Grimaldi Caves, the Romanelli Grotto on the Canale d’Otranto, intensely explored by GA Blanc and which offers a fundamental stratigraphic series, the Agro Falisco caverns excavated by U. Rellini, some Sicilian caves of the Trapani area illustrated by R Vaufrey, offer the most secure data; but there are numerous other similar deposits scattered throughout the peninsula, especially on the Tyrrhenian side, in Liguria and in Tuscany, in Umbria and in the Marches, in Lazio and in Sicily. Sardinia is also absent from this picture and, with the exception of Elba, the other islands.

But, in Italy, the Aurignacian-Solutréano-Magdalénian succession, so sure in Western Europe, does not occur; nor does the most characteristic animal appear there, the reindeer, which occurs only in the Grimaldi Caves without surpassing them. There are very few artistic manifestations (female statuettes of the Grimaldi Caves, veneretta steatopigica of Savignano sul Panaro, crude animal-like graffiti in Grotta Romanelli), manifestations that instead constitute the dominant note of Franco-Cantabrian culture, from the Aurignacian to the Magdalenian; finally poor and meaningless is the bone industry.

In the siliceous paraphernalia nothing refers to Solutréano and Magdaléniano, to be considered completely absent, while there are many forms similar to those of the French Aurignacian, especially the middle one. But the stringent affinities are also noted with the particular Willendorfian culture of the Danube countries and even more with the Capsian of Africa that rises in Iberia; so that, given the particular aspects, it is convenient to distinguish this upper or final Paleolithic of Italy with the more proper name of Grimaldian, according to the conclusions of U. Rellini who distinguishes two  facies, the northern one more akin to the true Aurignacian, the other southern more impregnated with Capsian elements. With this industry, clearly superimposed in the Grimaldi Caves to the Moustériano, widespread throughout the peninsula and in Sicily, the Pleistocene era ends and the current one begins, in which it fades (see myolitics, civilization).

More numerous are the human skeletal remains of this long period: sixteen buried in the Grimaldi Caves, belonging to two distinct races (Negroid and Cro-Magnon), document not only the presence of men with a civilization superior to that of the Neanderthaloids, but also for Italy the first funeral rite, performed in the same inhabited caves; to these is added the skeleton found in Lama dei Peligni (v. abruzzo) under an ancient Neolithic layer and presenting the characteristics of the so-called Mediterranean race.

Italy Prehistory - Paleolithic