Italy in Paleolithic Ages

Italy in Paleolithic Ages

The appearance of man

In Italy there are no very ancient archaeological evidences relating to the presence of man. The existence of isolated testimonies, not sufficiently reconnectable to each other, suggests the presence of man starting from about 700,000-400,000 years ago in numerous regions of the peninsula (Lazio: Valchetta Cartoni, Anagni-Colle Marino, Arce-Fontana Liri, Castel di Guido; Abruzzo: Madonna del Freddo, Giumentina Valley; Basilicata: Venosa, Irsina; Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Visogliano). These findings have variable typological characteristics, sometimes indicating the alternation, sometimes the coexistence, of industries on pebble and sliver. The exceptional documentation found in Isernia in La Pineta (Molise) allows us to shed light on a series of Homo erectus activities in central Italy about 700,000 years ago. Although no human remains have been found either in Isernia or in other such ancient Italian sites, the association of artefacts and faunas allows us to hypothesize the achievement of technical skills that could not exist without adequate social development.


According to Usprivateschoolsfinder, ancient testimonies of the Acheulean dating back to 650,000 years ago have been found in Notarchirico, in Basilicata. Among the most ancient deposits in which there are two-sided associated with a characteristic industry on bone is that of Anagni-Fontana Ranuccio, radiometrically dated to 458,000 years. This site, from which some molars of Homo erectus also come, can be compared to the industries of Pofi (Lazio), found associated with a fragment of an ulna and a tibia of Homo erectus, and those of Rosaneto (Cosenza). More advanced Acheulean industries, characterized by a significant presence of double-sided and sliver tools, to be placed chronologically during the Riss glaciation (about 200,000-120,000 years ago), are testified by numerous finds throughout the peninsula. The best preserved open-air sites (Torrimpietra, near Rome) indicate a systematic occupation of favorable territories in a period ranging from an advanced phase of the Riss to the interglacial Riss-Würm: in the most ancient levels, the Acheulean industry, associated he fauna, still highlights the importance of hunting among economic activities. In the Gargano, at the mouth of the Romandato stream, an evolved Acheulean industry was found, associated with sliver industry comprising lateral and transverse scrapers and some carined scrapers; the presence of working splinters indicates in this station a lithic workshop, in which it is supposed that the roughing and working of the flint took place, suggesting the existence of specialized activities. The great diffusion of this industry in Italy is an indication of a significant demographic increase, also facilitated by the increased ability to exploit different environmental situations: seasonal hunting or gathering sites are opposed by sites (caves and inhabited on terraces) in which the settlement shows continuity over time. The diversity in technology (double-sided industry, sliver industry, different association of the two types) may indicate chronological variations from time to time,

Starting from the end of the Riss and during the Riss-Würm there are also important structural modifications in the human species, with the appearance of the Neanderthal man: in Italy, among the most ancient finds there is that of the Devil’s Chair, in the fluvial-lacustrine sediments attributed to Riss, typologically connectable with a series of testimonies (artifacts and human remains), all coming from the lower Aniene valley (Monte delle Gioie, Monte Sacro, Ponte Mammolo). A case in itself represents the discovery of Saccopastore(➔ # 10132;), also in the Aniene valley, dated to about 100,000 years ago, where the premusterian industry is associated with two neandertaloid skulls.

1.3 Mousterian Better known is human activity in the last Pleistocene glaciation, the Würm (about 100,000-10,000 years ago), characterized by the alternation of cold and arid periods with more temperate and humid periods. In cold periods, the expansion of the glaciers caused a significant lowering of the sea level, uncovering large coastal plains (they were mainland, for example, the northern Adriatic and the Tuscany-Elbe bridge). The Middle Paleolithic covers a large part of this period, reaching 35,000 years ago. The related industries, called Mousterian, show considerable variations depending on the area or, in part, on the stratigraphic level. The Mousterian is found with typological characteristics evident in the Ligurian caves (Balzi Rossi, Grotta delle Fate, Arma di Taggia etc.). Punctual testimonies come from Calabria, where an industry characterized by the Levalloisian technique was found in the Grotta di Torre Nave in Praia a Mare (level 13); always from this region (Archi, Reggio di Calabria), comes a mandible of Homo sapiens neandertalensis, attributed to a 5-6 year old child. In Santa Croce di Bisceglie (Puglia) the lower part of the filling revealed a ‘typical’ Mousterian, with Levalloisian tips, scrapers on splinters and discoidal quartzite cores; associated, a fragment of a human femur.

More common in Italy is the Mousterian ‘Quina type’, characterized by scrapers, tranchets, etc., defined by a typical ‘steep retouch’, which gives them a squat and compact appearance. It is well documented in Puglia, where it appears in Grotta Paglicci(➔ # 10132;) above an underlying Acheulean level, and in the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce), where a particular aspect is represented by instruments made on the valve of a mollusk (Callista chione) which characterize a large geographical area up to the southern Tyrrhenian Sea.

In Lazio the pontiniana facies has particular characteristics, deriving from the systematic use of flint pebbles (Fossellone cave, Canale delle Acque Alte, Grotta Guattari; ➔Circeo). In this period, groups numerically related to the abundance of game in the area systematically occupied the caves, which offered shelter in cold periods and where fire could be used.

Homo sapiens sapiens appears during the second period of the Würm glaciation, but the transition to the Upper Paleolithic appears blurred; there are remains of Neanderthals associated with evolved industries and remains of Homo sapiens sapiens with industries still of the Mousterian type but, despite mixing and overlapping between the two human types, at a certain point the Neanderthal subspecies disappears.


The Italian Aurignacian, characterized by a laminar processing of retouched blades or lamellae, of keeled, snout, burins, and occasionally by bone points cracked at the base, has few typological links with the previous Mousterian industry. It is found in an archaic proto-Aurignatian form in Liguria (Riparo Mochi), in the Veneto (Riparo Tagliente), in Campania (Grotta di Castelcivita, Grotta della Cala in Marina di Camerota and in the open-air site of Serino, near Avellino, dated to 31,200 ± 650 years ago).


Typologically closer to the Mousterian, and considered a local evolutionary current coeval to the Aurignacian, is the Uuzzian, which developed from the end of the Würm I-II interstage up to an advanced moment of the Würm III (about 30,000 years ago); the industry is essentially on splinters, characterized by the presence of scrapers, denticulates, blades and above all scrapers and backs. In the various sites in which it has been identified, the Uluzziano is in a clear stratigraphic position: at the Grotta di Castelcivita (Salerno) it is dominated by a protoaurignatian level; alla Grotta della Fabbrica (Grosseto) it lies on a Mousterian horizon and is dominated by the Protoaurignacian; at the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce), it happens continuously at Mousterian levels. The splitting,


More recent is the Gravettiano, widespread in many Italian areas: all the sites of the Tyrrhenian belt, for example, are characterized by a particular industry, with the almost constant presence of Noailles burins, tools that define the upper Perigordian in France. Some Ligurian caves (Grotta dei Fanciulli and Riparo Mochi) and the Paglicci Grotto are connected to this moment. Starting from the upper Paleolithic, particular figurative testimonies contribute to fill the gaps in the knowledge of prehistoric man. These are various artistic expressions, among which in particular we must remember the ‘veneri’, that is female figures in relief intended as symbolic projections of fertility, and a series of graffiti or engravings that refer to the hunting activity and to some ritual and magical aspects connected to it.


The final aspect of the industries of the upper Paleolithic in Italy, corresponding to the Solutrean and Magdalenian facies of western Europe, is the Epigravettian, a denomination that underlines the continuity with the previous period. It is known in the caves of the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic sides (Grotta Paglicci).

A variant of the Epigravettian is the Romanellian (from the Romanelli Cave, near Otranto), with industry characterized by microlithic tools, to which some similar sites in Puglia and in particular in Salento also refer. Different aspects, with accentuated regional characteristics, are present in Grotta Polesini (Rome), rich among other things in furniture art, with naturalistic, schematic and geometric representations. Between 20,000 and 9,000 years ago, the men of the upper Paleolithic systematically occupied the entire Italy peninsular and insular, adopting different functional solutions in relation to an evolving economy and exchanging objects and ideas through paths that covered even considerable distances.

Italy in Paleolithic Ages