Human settlement of Italy during the Younger Dryas

Human settlement of Italy during the Younger Dryas

Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Quaternary International journal homepage:

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Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Quaternary International journal homepage:

Human settlement of Italy during the Younger Dryas Margherita Mussi a, *, Marco Peresani b a b

Sezione di Archeologia preistorica e protostorica, Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Antichità, Università di Roma La Sapienza, Via Palestro 63, I-00185 Roma, Italy Sezione di Paleobiologia, Preistoria e Antropologia, Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Università di Ferrara, Corso Ercole I d’Este 32, I-44100 Ferrara, Italy

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history: Available online 17 March 2011

A thorough review of the evidence of human settlement in Italy during the Younger Dryas (YD) is presented, making use of 14C-dated sites and, in some instances, of sites dated by proxy indicators (lithic seriation, cold-adapted animal species). Calibrated dates within the range 12.9e11.6 ka BP are retained. The analysis is arranged following a geographical division between northern Italy, with the pre-Alps and the north-eastern slope of the Apennine, and south-central Italy, with Sicily. In total, 31 dated sites are included, some of which multi-layered. The elusive evidence from Sardinia is also briefly discussed. It is underlined that there are far more cave sites than open-air sites in this sample, mostly because archaeological research has focused on caves, while taphonomy explains the partial destruction of the record in the open. A wide range of environments was settled, from coastal areas to river valleys, from lake basins and high plateaux to mountain ranges up to c. 1500 m asl. The most frequently hunted animals were either ibex (mountains as well as rocky cliffs, even at sea level and in the South), or hydruntine horse (plains and hills), accompanied by red deer. Birds, molluscs, and fish were also important resources at some sites. Rituals are indicated by a number of formal burials, while artwork includes Azilian pebbles and geometric wall engravings. In the pre-Alps, there are changes in the settlement pattern as campsites were smaller and shorter-lived than during the Alleröd. However, the same mountains and high elevation hunting grounds were exploited in the YD as before, and Alpine passes were crossed. Elsewhere, all over peninsular Italy, cave sites were in use again and again. Even if the climate was worsening, with temperatures markedly lower than during the Alleröd, the general conclusions are that, in the case of Italy, at the YD some limited indicators of stress can be detected so far only in Alpine areas. Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Italy extends from 37 to 47 N, and is encircled by some 9000 km of marine coasts. Accordingly, it is characterized by a variety of environments, which is made greater, even over short distances, by mountain ranges: the Alps which effectively seclude the peninsula from the rest of Europe, and the Apennines, which split it in two, from northwest to southeast. North of the Po valley and the Friulian-Venetian plains, a 40 km-wide pre-Alpine belt includes mountain ranges peaking over 2000 m, and karst high plateaux 1000-1200 m high, which are dissected by gorges and river valleys, and locally enclose alpine lakes. In peninsular Italy the plains are quite restricted, even along the coasts, which are often rocky.

* Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (M. Mussi), [email protected] (M. Peresani). 1040-6182/$ e see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.03.008

The climate is milder on the western side, and more continental on the Adriatic side, as well as in the north, which is close to the Alps and where winter temperatures are also lower. During low marine stands, only a limited coastal strip emerged, except in the northern Adriatic: it was a plain in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; Antonioli and Vai, 2004), but had already become consistently restricted in the Younger Dryas (YD; Correggiari et al., 1997; Lambeck et al., 2004; Lambeck and Purcell, 2005). During the YD, small glacial advances took place in the mountains. However, the glaciers had already melted to a great extent, while during the LGM, they expanded over vast stretches of the Alps, and also developed in the Apennines as far south as M. Pollino in Calabria (40 N) (Giraudi, 2004). The time period also experienced a reduction of forest cover, which happened after a previous large-scale increase in tree population between 14.5 and 13 ka cal BP (Magri, 2008), when the treeline shifted 900 m upwards to 1700e1800 m asl (Ravazzi et al., 2007). In northern Italy, the onset of the Younger Dryas coincides with a progressive decrease of the forestation rate. In the mountain belt the treeline

M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

shifted 200e300 m downwards, and grasslands, steppes and xerophilic shrubs conversely expanded. Overall, the most frequent herbivores were red deer and ibex, while in central and southern Italy hydruntine horse was another dominant species. Chamois, roe deer and wild boar are rather common in some assemblages, while aurochs and common horse are less frequently found. Wolf, brown bear and lion were the large carnivores of the time, but some hyenas probably survived in the south (see Mussi, 2001 for discussion and references). The Lateglacial lithic industries belong to the Epigravettian and specifically, at the YD, to the Final Epigravettian. Italy was peopled throughout MIS2, but experienced changes in the number and density of sites, most notably in the mountain ranges and in the islands.This paper discusses the prehistoric peopling of the mainland and of Sicily and Sardinia during the YD.

2. Materials and methods The Apennine Range is the backbone of the peninsula, a main watershed and a major geographical divide. The peaks, from Liguria to Sicily, are in the range of 2,000 m, with passes between 700 m and 1,000 m asl. As mentioned above, north of this mountain range are found the only sizeable flatlands of Italy: the wide and flat Po valley, and the plains which are a natural continuation, both to the north (pianura veneto-friulana) and to the south (pianura emilianoromagnola). South of the Apennines, rivers are much shorter, the landscape ranges from hilly to rugged, and a flatland is a rarity. The contrast was even sharper during glacial periods, when parts of the northern Adriatic Sea had emerged, as far south as the Marche region. Accordingly, Italy has been split into 2 main regions, to be examined separately: 1) northern Italy, i.e. Italy north of the Apennine range, which includes the Alps and extends south, on the Adriatic side of the peninsula to the Marche region and to approximately 43 N; 2) central and southern Italy, south of the Apennine range, with the remaining part of the peninsula; it extends to the northeast, on the Tyrrhenian side, with Liguria, a narrow strip of land between mountains and sea; the main islands of Sicily and Sardinia are also included (Fig. 1). The accepted chronological range for the YD in northern Italy is 12.7e11.6 ka cal BP (Vescovi et al., 2007). The present discussion will use this time range, but the lower limit will be extended to 12.9 ka cal BP, following Steffensen et al. (2008). The dates were calibrated using CalPal Online (, CalCurve: CalPal_2007_HULU. Altogether, 31 radiocarbon dated sites, some multi-layered, have been taken into account (Table 1). Sites without radiometric dates will also be mentioned, when discovered in the same general area as dated ones, and when they can be correlated by techno-typological seriation in lithic production; and/or when proxy indicators of cold climate, such as faunal elements, are available. Lithic technology and typology will not be discussed in any detail: reference will be made to seriation for which there is consensus in the scientific literature. Prominent aspects of the faunal assemblages will be briefly illustrated, in order to put into perspective differences in species distribution and any changes through time in human adaptation. Evidence of symbolic elaboration and ritual activity will also be taken into account. This is intended to help evaluate intra-group social complexity and intergroup contacts. Not all the available 14C dates have the same level of accuracy and consistency. This is especially true for sites investigated in the 1960s and early 1970s, when 14C dating was still in a pioneer phase. Furthermore, at such sites, and in those investigated earlier, digging techniques were not always up to modern standards.


As well, not every part of Italy has been researched with the same intensity. For instance, while in the northeast and in central Abruzzo there has been several major operations, elsewhere, as in Sicily, the investigation of Palaeolithic sites has been close to nil in the last 30 years or so. There is also a strong bias in favour of cave sites, and only limited evidence for open-air sites, which are almost invariably much disturbed and with poorly preserved materials. This happened at low altitudes and on flat ground because of ploughing and other farm activities, while in the mountains, karst and pedogenesis caused the dissolution of bones and non-flint artefacts.

3. Northern Italy Site distributions range from the valley bottoms to the middle mountain level, mostly in the open in the vicinity of peat bogs or landmarks (Fig. 1). Several rockshelters (Soman, Paina, Cogola, Dalmeri) and open-air sites (Bus de La Lum, Le Regole 1 and 2, Val Lastari) have been radiocarbon dated (Table 1), whereas others (i.e. Palughetto, Piancavallo, Andalo) have been included on the basis of the lithic cultural sequences, which presumably record the end of the YD with the spread of geometric microliths (crescents and triangles) made with the microburin technique (Broglio, 1992). Bassetti et al. (2009) also agree that these artefacts, as well as other indexes established after the analysis of lithic technology and common tools, may have diagnostic value when exploring the cultural transition from YD to the Preboreal. At Riparo Soman, on the left bank of the Adige river (Battaglia et al., 1992), a hearth surrounded by stones was excavated in the layers of Phase II, where the lithics include mostly backed points and microliths but also tens of common tools made of local flint. Hunting occurred between summer and fall and was mostly directed at adult chamois and ibex, followed by young-adult red deer and bovids (Tagliacozzo and Cassoli, 1992). The chamois assemblage is dominated by lower limbs and extremities, as well as teeth, i.e. bones rather poor in meat, and fits into the category of primary hunting sites. A high frequency of upper limb bones, rich in meat, in the ibex assemblage suggests instead a secondary consumption site (Phoca e Cosmetatou, 2009). Very sparse evidence has been recorded at Grotta Paina, the southernmost Epigravettian location in the Venetian plain (Bartolomei et al., 1987e88; Broglio and Improta, 1994e95). Behind the preAlpine belt, Riparo Villabruna is a small rockshelter on the left side of the Cismòn gorge in the Veneto Dolomite area. Levels 9 to 5 yielded common tools and microliths in comparable percentages, together with remains of hunted mammals, mostly red deer, ibex and chamois (Aimar et al., 1992). At another rockshelter, Cogola, at the head of the Astico Valley and at the foot of a limestone cliff, well-preserved occupation floors were excavated in unit 19, with a dense scatter of faunal remains, as well as bone and flint artifacts (Dalmeri, 2004). Human movements to flint sources 40 km north or contacts with groups from that zone indicate the circulation of fully equipped hunter-gatherers (Bertola and Cusinato, 2004). Hunting was aimed almost exclusively at ibex and chamois during summer-autumn. To a lesser extent, red deer was also hunted and butchered before being introduced into the site (Fiore and Tagliacozzo, 2004). As with the Soman Phase II, the chamois assemblage is dominated by lower limbs and extremities, as well as teeth (Phoca e Cosmetatou, 2009). A few km away from Cogola, Palù Echen is a peaty lacustrine and peaty basin with sites along its banks (G.Dalmeri, pers. comm. 2010), such as one discovered on the north-eastern bank (Dalmeri et al., 2005). Moreover, a stratigraphic sequence unearthed inside the basin, with faunal remains and charcoal, has been taken as a proxy indicator to link this evidence to the settlements (Filippi et al., 2005).


M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

Fig. 1. Sketch map of the Alps and the Italian Peninsula with position of the sites radiocarbon dated to the YD and listed in Table 1 except Altwasser-Höhle 1. 1 - Altwasser-Höhle 1; 2 - Laghetto Le Regole; 3 - Grotte Verdi di Pradis; 4 e Bus de La Lum and Palughetto; 5 e Riparo Dalmeri and Val Lastari; 6 e Riparo Cogola and Palù Echen; 7 e Riparo Soman; 8 e Grotta Paina; 9 e Cava Romita and Grotta del Prete; 10 e Balzi Rossi, Grotta dei Fanciulli; 11 - Arma di Nasino; 12 e Grotta delle Arene Candide; 13 e Isola Santa, Riparo Fredian and Riparo di Piastricoli; 14 e Grotta delle Settecannelle; 15 e Grotta Polesini; 16 e Grotta la Punta, Grotta Continenza and Grotta Maritza; 17 e Grotta del Mezzogiorno and Grotta La Porta; 18 e Grotta della Serratura and Grotta La Cala; 19 e Grotta della Madonna; 20- Riparo del Romito; 21 e Grotta Le Mura; 22 e Grotta Romanelli; 23 e Grotta dell’Uzzo.

In contrast, details are not available for the final phase of the prehistoric settlement at Riparo Dalmeri, with a YD date. This large shelter on the northern slope of the Asiago Plateau was intensively used during the Lateglacial interstadail, at first for ritual purposes and later for settling (Bassetti et al., 1998; Dalmeri et al., 2006). The same lack of information holds true for Grotte Verdi di Pradis and Val Lastari. The first is a shelter almost completely emptied by illegal digging (Bartolomei et al., 1979), even if movements from the

west, covering distances of almost 60 km, have been inferred from the varieties of the flint present. Val Lastari is an open-air site near a low limestone cliff. Post-depositional processes scattered lithic artifacts both vertically and horizontally. Accordingly, inferences cannot be made from the lithic assemblage, which was recovered 0.5 m above flint workshop levels and above a cache of 66 flint nodules, which are all dated to the Lateglacial interstadail (Peresani et al., in press-a, Peresani, 2006).

M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370


Table 1 List of the YD radiocarbon dated sites in Italy arranged according to latitude. Dates were calibrated using CalPal Online (, CalCurve: CalPal_2007_HULU. Site


Altitude m asl

Setting Coastal

47 N Le Regole 2 Le Regole 1 Verdi Pradis Bus de La Lum


Central value  Sigma


Cal BP

68% range cal BP

10373 10445 10970 10430


32 32 290 50

KIA-14196 KIA-14195 F-86 UtC-8912

12307 12379 12895 12360


173 166 294 173

12133e12480 12213e12545 12601e13189 12186e12533

10800 10640 10380 10320 10280 10370 10470 10510 10760


110 60 70 60 110 110 150 180 100

R-425 UtC-9287 UtC-9286 UtC-13428 UtC-2685 Gd-6163 Gd-6159 Gd-4511 UtC-2698

12792 12634 12304 12209 12095 12262 12341 12352 12746


110 77 193 197 283 239 249 273 97

12682e12902 12557e12711 12110e12497 12012e12406 11812e12378 12022e12501 12091e12590 12078e12625 12648e12843

10090 9980 10330 10740 10910 10065 10655 10720 10735 10585 10720 10870 10340 10800


60 140 95 90 90 55 55 55 55 55 140 119 85 80

Beta-76824 Beta-49694 R-100 Beta-53981 Rome-740 OxA-10998 OxA-11001 OxA-11002 OxA-11003 OxA-11000 R-1524 AA-10952 GX-14718 ANSTO-OZC241

11671 11553 12212 12719 12871 11615 12657 12702 12709 12549 12630 12849 12240 12786


206 237 244 83 102 180 66 46 46 131 188 115 225 81

11465e11877 11316e11790 11968e12456 12635e12802 12769e12973 11434e11795 12591e12723 12655e12748 12663e12755 12418e12680 12441e12818 12734e12964 12014e12465 12705e12867

x x

11130 9990 10020 10350


100 190 65 60

GifA-94197 R-645 LTL-201A UtC-11552

13034 11607 11544 12271


147 315 173 195

12886e13181 11291e11922 11371e11717 12076e12466



10570  260


12338  366


7 24e25 30e31 37e39 32 34

40 710 710

x x x



10090 10581 10420 10420 10280 10230


80 100 100 60 100 100

R-1265 Pi-153 R-1271 R-1270 R-557 R-558

11674 12481 12330 12348 12100 11980


224 193 209 179 268 263

11449e11898 12287e12674 12121e12539 12169e12527 11832e12368 11716e12243

41 N Mezzogiorno La Porta La Cala Serratura Serratura Serratura Le Mura Le Mura Romanelli Romanelli Romanelli

11 B t.5 F 8A 8B 8B 3 3 A C D

120 120 5 2

x x x x





10780 9810 10390 10000 10220 10270 10540 10850 10320 10390 10640


405 275 180 130 60 140 140 100 130 80 100

F-35 F-41 F-109 UtC-754 Bln-3571 UtC-755 Beta-91796 UTC-1462 GrN-2305 GrN-2153 GrN-2055

12524 11310 12198 11579 11934 12056 12413 12830 12155 12310 12556


531 469 332 243 158 330 230 101 30 198 157

11992e13055 10841e11779 11865e12530 11335e11822 11776e12092 11726e12386 12182e12643 12728e12931 11852e12457 12111e12508 12399e12713

40 N Madonna Madonna Madonna Madonna Madonna Romito Romito

54e55 54e55 57e58 57e58 64e65 5 7



1030 10450 10120 10030 10850 10250 11150


1000 100 70 90 100 450 150

R-289 R-291 R-185 R-186 R-292 R-298 R-300

12137 12361 11719 11581 12830 11898 13051


269 205 214 206 101 628 170

11868e12406 12155e12566 11505e11933 11375e11787 12728e12931 11270e12526 12881e13221

39 N Uzzo




11648  228


2 2 1b 2

1236 1239 515 995

14b 19 19 7 3D phase II phase II phase II 5

1240 1070

12 M top M M cut 1-2 M cut 1-2 M burial III M burial VIII M burial XII M burial XIV M burial VIB 5 5 t. 826 B t.9

150 85

C 6 C6 D1-2

20 230 185


42 N Polesini La Punta Maritza Maritza Continenza Continenza

46 N Dalmeri Cogola Palù Echen 2t Val Lastari Soman Soman Soman Paina



1260 1060 95

x x x



45 N Nasino Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Arene Candide Isola Santa Fredian Piastricoli Piastricoli 44 N Fanciulli Prete Cava Romita 43 N Settecannelle

x x

510 360 360

x x x





10070  90


M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

At a comparable elevation, but further north in the inner alpine region, the banks of the Andalo lake were settled with a handful of open-air sites as evidenced by scattered flints discovered in the loamy fill of wedges casts. Balanced assemblages of endscrapers, burins, truncated blades and armatures, including geometric microliths, suggests that both hunting and domestic activities were performed (Guerreschi, 1984). The open-air site of Bus de La Lum lies on the Cansiglio karst plateau (Fig. 2) in an extremely uneven zone. The lithic industry is made of local flint and flint from more distant sources. Besides common tools and typical backed points, backed and truncated bladelets, the assemblage also includes trapezes. According to usewear analysis, butchering was the main task performed, suggesting that the site was briefly visited by hunting parties and that skins were processed (Peresani et al. 1999e2000; Lemorini and Rossetti, 2000). Bus de La Lum also yielded a large hematite flake with deliberate scars and abrasions and a small refitting flake. The mineralogical features and characteristics (85e90% specularite, in association with chamosite and probable ankerite) suggest provenance from the iron ores of Saxony, Thuringia, Sudetes and Moravia (Frizzo, in Peresani 2004). On the Cansiglio plateau, at 1040 m elevation, two zones of settlement have been investigated at Palughetto MN and Palughetto MO, on the moraine ridges which surround a peat bog. A third area was discovered inside the peat bog, where a handful of artefacts and a flint cache were recovered in a soil (unit T6) embedded in the lacustrine and peaty sequence (Peresani, 2006). The lithic assemblages from Palughetto MN and Palughetto MO include short endscrapers and microliths (points, truncationpoints, crescents and triangles). Both local and exogenous flint was exploited, even if only finished tools and armatures were introduced into the site. The few lithic scatters at Palughetto MN show a radial decrease in the number of the items surrounding specific central points. Core, flake and tool dispersal patterns are opposite to the distribution pattern of microliths, which cluster in the central zone together with their byproducts (microburins, fracturenotches, etc.) and with thermally weathered pieces. The settled zone records seasonal occurrences during a short span of time (Peresani et al., in press-b).

The four sites discovered at 1260e1300 m in the surroundings of Busa di Villotta on the Piancavallo high plateau (Guerreschi, 1975) record high percentages of lithic armatures, not much affected by impact scars (Ziggiotti, 2006). These sites are likely to have been short-term camps, where activities focused on preparing throwing spears for hunting, as evidenced by waste and the many accidents made during the manufacture of microliths. Besides the typological profile, affinities with the Cansiglio sites are also supported by the shared exploitation of flint sources on the same plateau. Around the Laghetto delle Regole, a peat bog at 1240 m, two sites (LR1 and LR2) were discovered on the sandy lake beach, which belongs to the regressive sequence of a pre-existing paleolake. Both sites yielded scarce lithic artefacts: in LR1 just geometric microliths, and in LR2 two refitting scatters of flaking byproducts, as well as backed points and geometric microliths (Dalmeri et al., 2002). These concentrations suggest separate and short-term frequentations on the peat bog banks. In the Marche Apennine, Cava Romita and Grotta del Prete should be mentioned. Cava Romita once was a huge shelter, but has since been almost completely destroyed by road works and quarrying activity. Human groups settled there during a cool and dry climatic phase, when sparse shrubs developed in the nearby gorge. This is a favourable location, close to flint sources and water, and to the varied resources available in the Esino fluvial basin (Esu et al., 2006). The same holds true for Grotta del Prete, a small cave 10 m above the Sentino river bed (Broglio and Lollini, 1981). 4. Central and southern italy The Balzi Rossi or Grimaldi caves are a string of major sites at the boundary between Italy and France. They mark the “western gate” of the peninsula, constricted between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Diggings, unfortunately, started in the middle of the XIXth century. Not much evidence or scientific documentation is left of the uppermost (Lateglacial) deposits, which were the most easily accessed at the time (Vicino and Mussi, 2010 for a discussion and references). The only relevant 14C dates are those of Lateglacial burials at Grotta dei Fanciulli (Grotte des Enfants, in the French literature). Table 1 includes the direct dating of specimen GF3, one of

Fig. 2. A view from the south on the Cansiglio Plateau in the Veneto Pre-Alps, at c. 1000 m asl and, foreground, on the Monte Cavallo Massif at 2200 m asl. Location of the Bus de La Lum open site is shown by the arrow (Photo M. Peresani).

M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

the two child skeletons after which the cave was named: it possibly points to the very beginning of the YD, even if it is statistically more probable that it belongs to the preceding milder Alleröd. While a human settlement at the Balzi Rossi is an educated guess that cannot be scientifically proven, Caverna delle Arene Candide, 100 km to the northeast, is definitely a major and welldated YD site. At this cave, in a commanding position along the Tyrrhenian coast, there are abundant remains of every day activity, including faunal remains. Red deer is by far the most frequent herbivore (Cassoli and Tagliacozzo, 1994) (Table 2). Bones of the extinct Alca impennis, the Great Auk, were also discovered (Cassoli, 1980). Symbolic behaviour is shown by works of art and burials (Cardini, 1980). Formicola et al. (2005) proved that the cave was used again and again by human groups which, over centuries, consistently performed the same burial rites. All together, the remains of some 20 adults and children were unearthed during archaeological excavations. Painted Azilian pebbles, some as burial goods, and parietal art both occur. Geometric wall engravings have been recognized in a lateral branch of the cave. The opening, which lies at the same level as the Late Epigravettian deposits, was later covered by Early and Middle Neolithic layers (Mussi et al., 2008a). Inland hunting grounds were also exploited at the YD, although inner Liguria is rugged country. Arma di Nasino opens 12 km away from the modern coast, not far from Arene Candide. It stands at low elevation at the bottom of a valley, the Val Pennavaira. Close to the cave, however, there are peaks of 1700 m and more (Maggi, 1996). This is even more true at Arma dello Stefanin, at 440 m asl, 5 km upstream in the same valley. The relevant layers are not dated, but typological seriation as well as stratigraphy point to a YD age for layers which are bracketed between 14C dates of 15 and 10 ka cal BP respectively (Leale Anfossi and Palma di Cesnola, 1972; Maggi, 1996). Ibex make up 75% of the faunal remains, and marmot indicates cold conditions. A rather similar environment existed in the upper Serchio Valley of northern Tuscany, where Riparo Fredian and Riparo di Piastricoli, as well as Isola Santa, an open-air site, were all investigated (Biagi et al., 1980; Boschian et al., 1995). This also holds true for Grotta delle Campane and Caverna di Ponte Nero, in the nearby Lima Valley and at a similar altitude (Radmilli et al., 1978). The last two sites are believed to be close in age to those of the Serchio Valley, but were not radiometrically dated. Ibex always makes up a significant part of the assemblage, even if bone preservation is not always good. The fauna is better exemplified at Riparo di Piastricoli (Cilli et al., 2000): ibex 55%, chamois 18% and red deer 10%.


Further South, Grotta delle Settecannelle opens in a gently undulating landscape, close to Lago di Bolsena, one of the volcanic lakes of central Italy (Uccelli Gnesutta et al., 2006). Detailed data on the faunal remains are not yet available, but common horse and hydruntine horse were hunted in this environment. Near Rome, where the Aniene River enters the Tiber River, Grotta Polesini is similarly set in a hilly landscape (Radmilli, 1974; Sala, 1983). Nearly half a million lithic implements were collected, as well as two metric tonnes of bone remains. The site was occupied during the YD, as documented by a single 14C date, as well as by cold-tolerant species which are rarely if ever found at Italian sites, such as the wolverine. Marmot and Lagopus mutus, the ptarmigan, are also documented. Red deer is by far the dominant species, with more than 70% of the remains throughout the sequence (Table 2). It would have been the most common animal also in the YD. However, while the stratigraphy spans a substantial part of the Lateglacial, the archaeological investigations, which were made half a century ago, do not allow establishment of a detailed chronology. The colonisation of the innermost part of the peninsula is well documented around the Fucino Basin, a vast tectonic depression in the middle of the Apennine range. The bottom of the basin, at c. 700 m asl, is a plain where a shallow and widely fluctuating lake was once in existence (Fig. 3), but the surrounding peaks reach 2000 m asl. Archaeological layers dated to the YD were deposited at Grotta La Punta, Grotta Maritza and Grotta Continenza, at short distances from each other on the southern margin of the Fucino (Radmilli, 1977; Grifoni Cremonesi, 1998, 2003). After a recent restudy of the old collections from Grotta Maritza, ibex and red deer were shown to be by far the most frequently hunted herbivores during the YD (Alhaique, 2005) (Table 2). Trout was another important resource for people living around the former lake. Another Lateglacial, but undated, site is Grotta di Ortucchio, while at Grotta di Pozzo there is positive evidence that the YD levels have been eroded by natural agents (Mussi et al., 2008b; Mussi, ongoing research). Burials have been discovered: an adult as well as a child at Maritza, and two adults at Continenza, where portable art includes painted “Azilian” pebbles. Except for Grotta del Romito, further South all the investigated sites are coastal caves. The Costiera Amalfitana is a picturesque series of cliffs, where a number of caves open at more than 100 m asl (Fig. 4). However, the modern landscape is quite different from the past one, because of changes in sea level and because of tectonic activity, which uplifted this part of the coast. Substantial portions of the cliffs have collapsed, leaving the remnants of once larger cavities. The only dated level of Grotta La Porta is at the upper limit of the accepted time range for YD, but the stratigraphic sequence

Table 2 Inventory of ungulate remains, arranged as in Table 1. The selected sites are those where remains are preserved in sizeable numbers and recent archaeozoological analysis is available. Source of data: Soman: Tagliacozzo and Cassoli 1992; Cogola: Fiore and Tagliacozzo 2004; Arene Candide: Cassoli and Tagliacozzo 1994; Piastricoli: Cilli et al., 2000; Polesini; Sala 1983; Maritza: Alhaique 2005; Mezzogiorno: Sala 1983; Serratura: Martini 1993; Mura: Bon and Boscato 1995; Romito: Boscato et al., 1998; Romanelli: Cassoli et al., 1997. Capreolus capreolus Soman Cogola 19 Piastr.820e827 Maritza 30e37 Mezz.15e17 Erica 3 Romito 5 Ar. Cand. M Polesini 7 Serrat. 8A-8B Le Mura 3 Romanelli C Romanelli D

1.1 3.6 0.2 5.2 6.1 4.1 13.9 6.5 23.3 0.3 0.4 0.2

Cervus elaphus

Alces alces

Rupicapra rupicapra

Capra ibex

18.8 26.2 10.9 37.9 4.0 4.5 19.1 59.9 72.0 42.9 13.8 39.2 36.0


48.3 4.8 21.9 42.6

24.4 48.2 64.6 1.9 79.7 46.2 30.6 8.6 0.6 2.4


7.8 0.5 1.5




Sus scrofa 0.3 1.8 2.4 9.2 16.2 43.2 36.1 16.7 7.5 31.3 2.0 0.3 0.4

Equus caballus

Equus hydrunthus

Equus sp.

Bos primigenus 5.1







10.6 34.7 31.3


54.6 25.3 32.0

Total NISP 357 170 1100 425 74 132 219 4113 4220 163 961 5494 2438


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Fig. 3. The Fucino basin, at c. 700 m asl, where a lake was in existence during the Lateglacial and before land reclamation in the XIXth century. From left to right, the arrows point to the following caves: La Punta, Maritza, Continenza (Photo M. Mussi).

extends downwards with more Lateglacial levels (Radmilli and Tongiorgi, 1958). Most of the faunal remains were determined as ibex or wild boar, and edible marine molluscs were also collected. At Grotta del Mezzogiorno, 14C analysis gave some conflicting results, with a date of 10,642  273 cal BP from cut 12, i.e. just below cut 11 mentioned in Table 1. It is assumed by Bietti et al. that a YD occupation is included in the stratigraphic sequence (1983). Ibex makes up approximately 80% of the fauna, and wild boar and red deer occur in much smaller numbers (Sala, 1983) (Table 2). Grotta La Cala and Grotta della Serratura, on the Cilento coast, similarly are in cliffs, but at sea level. Bone preservation is poor at Serratura, and at both sites the sample of identified remains from YD levels is restricted (Sala, 1983; Martini, 1993). Caprinae are found in very low numbers, and that holds true as well for the earlier part

of the Lateglacial sequence at this site. Wild boar and red deer, instead, make together 65e75% of the assemblage, and there is also a high percentage of roe deer. Symbolic activity is indicated by Azilian pebbles (Martini, 1992). At Grotta della Madonna, however, further south and in a comparable coastal setting, ibex was still frequently hunted. It became rare later, in the early Holocene (Cardini, 1970). Other resources commonly sought after were red deer, roe deer, wild boar, as well as Helix ligata, a terrestrial snail found in its thousands, and Salmo trutta, a salmonid of both fresh and brackish water (Durante and Settepassi, 1972; Durante, 1978). Grotta del Romito in the Lao Valley is not far away, but higher in the mountains of Calabria (Fig. 5). Published faunal percentages are between those mentioned above (Boscato et al., 1998) (Table 2). Assuming that

Fig. 4. The Costiera Amalfitana, with partially collapsed caves. The left arrow points to Grotta del Mezzogiono, and the right arrow to where Grotta La Porta is located, just behind the slope in the foreground (Photo L. Di Bianco).

M. Mussi, M. Peresani / Quaternary International 242 (2011) 360e370

level 6, level 5 (with a 14C date) and level 4a all belong to the YD, there is a shift in the two major species: wild boar numbers shrink through time, while ibex ones increase. Red deer is well represented, and chamois were also hunted. On the southern Adriatic coast, two more cave sites have been radiocarbon-dated to the YD: Grotta delle Mura and Grotta Romanelli. Preliminary information is available for Grotta delle Mura (Bon and Boscato, 1995; Calattini, 1996, 2002) (Table 2): Bos primigenius is the most frequent species, followed by equids, including both Equus caballus and E. hydruntinus. High numbers of hare bones are also mentioned, while caprids are non-existent. As flat landscapes characterise most of Apulia, it is not surprising that the composition of the faunal assemblage is quite different from those of western Italy. The same kind of hunting grounds was also available to human groups which settled again and again at Grotta Romanelli, in the heel of the Italian boot. The dates, which were produced in the early age of 14C dating, are somewhat contradictory, and those which fit into the YD are listed in Table 1 (see Mussi and De Marco, 2008 for a discussion). Following several lines of evidence, it was suggested that levels C and D formed during the YD (Cassoli et al., 1979). This is also confirmed by the analysis of the huge bird assemblage: 30% of bird remains of levels C and D belong to nordic or arctic species, including Alca impennis (Cassoli et al., 1997, 2003). The presence of some marmot bones, in southern Italy and at sea level, adds to the cold characterisation. Red deer, together with aurochs and hydruntine horses makes c. 65% of the herbivore assemblage, while caprid remains were not discovered (Cassoli et al., 1997) (Table 2). Butchery marks confirm that bustards, ducks, geese and others birds were routinely exploited. Engraved limestone blocks and slabs were also discovered, mostly at the base of level C, with both schematic and naturalistic engravings (Blanc, 1930; Acanfora, 1967). Sicily was peopled by at least 16 to 17ka cal BP, after the evidence of Grotta dell’Acqua Fitusa (Bianchini and Gambassini, 1973). Other dated sites confirm human presence in the Lateglacial, but 14C dating has not been performed in many instances. The fauna of the time was well balanced, without the endemic species of earlier times, because of a new migration influx from the mainland. However, ibex and chamois, amongst others, never crossed the straits. Positive evidence for the YD only exists at Grotta dell’Uzzo, in coastal eastern Sicily, and at the upper limit of the established time range. Red deer is the dominant species at this cave site (Tagliacozzo, 1993).


Sardinia, at the time, only had a fairly restricted number of fairly-sized terrestrial mammal species, all of them endemic: a lagomorph, Prolagus sardus; a small canid, Cynotherium sardous; and a small deer, Megaceros cazioti. Human presence is attested at 8.5 ka cal BP, when burials occur at S’Omu e s’Orku (Floris et al., in press). There are some hints of an earlier, Lateglacial colonisation of this large but rather remote Mediterranean island, but direct evidence is so far lacking (Mussi, 2009). 5. Discussion It is quite clear (Fig. 1) that large stretches of land seem devoid of any YD site, namely the central and western pre-Alps, and a large part of Sicily. However, this is directly related to the history of research. A bias was also produced over time, which strongly favors caves. In the end, open-air sites are only mentioned in the pre-Alps, and at Isola Santa in Tuscany. Mountain sites above 750 m are not found in central and southern Italy, either, but taphonomy is probably at stake. An example is the Valle di Chiarano, above 1500 m asl and southeast of the Fucino Basin, where flint sources have been located, which were used at the sites close to the lake. Final Epigravettian and Mesolithic sites were investigated in the open, but the stratigraphy was blurred by the activity of natural agents, and it was not possible to get 14C dates (Mussi et al., 2003). Furthermore, mere numbers, such as the altitude of sites, do not give a full idea of the relief, as most inland sites are in rugged countryside and are also surrounded by quite high peaks. Site distribution is quite even among coasts, valleys and inner lake basins, and occurs well above 1000 m of altitude. In northern Italy, there is evidence that the inner Alps and the Dolomitic zone were seasonally exploited up to 1500 m asl. The GI1 climatic cooling had an impact on vegetation (Vescovi and Tinner, 2005; Ravazzi et al., 2007; Vescovi et al., 2007). This, however, apparently had only a limited effect on the exploitation of hunting grounds at middle altitude and on settlement patterns, even if ibex and chamois were the most common species also at lower altitudes. There is a human signature in the same general areas as before, with most open-air camps close to lakes or damp zones. However, some developments occurred, which are made clear from comparisons with earlier Lateglacial sites (Bertola et al., 2007): most notably in the estimated size of camps (Table 3), in the numbers and

Fig. 5. The mountains of Calabria close to Grotta del Romito. The cave opens to a narrow valley just behind the building, 20 to 30 m further downslope (Photo F. Martini).


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composition of lithic assemblages, and in the spatial patterning of the main categories of lithic artefacts, such as at Palughetto. There is a trend towards an increasing simplification of the settlement, a diminishing surface of flint scatters and a reduction in the set of procedures involved in chipping, supplying and manufacturing food and other materials. This is better seen at middle-elevation sites, where each dwelling has a central hearth with a belt of progressively decreasing numbers of lithic implements. Lowland and highland sites also record increasing indexes for caprids among the hunted mammals, when compared with the sites dated to the Lateglacial interstade (Fiore and Tagliacozzo, 2005). We conclude that, in the mountain belt of the pre-Alps, during the YD the environment was rather demanding for the hunter-gatherers, who continued to exploit it, but at a smaller scale than before. Further south, major differences appear in YD faunal inventories, as with ibex-dominated assemblages compared to hydruntine horse-dominated assemblages (Table 2). This is related to different landscapes (mountains and cliffs vs. flatland) or to geographical barriers, in the case of Sicily. Red deer was ubiquitous, but ibex prevailed in rocky areas, even at sea level, and horses were exploited in great numbers in hilly or flat landscapes. However, overall animal exploitation, during the millennia which pre-dated the YD, was not substantially different: in his analysis of ungulate remains from the major Lateglacial sequences, Sala (1983) only found subtle and/or progressive shifts in the percentages of ungulate classes. This can be seen on the Tyrrhenian coast (Grotta La Cala), as on the Adriatic coast (Grotta Paglicci). Formal burials have been discovered, allowing for some glimpses into the ritual activity of the time, at Arene Candide (some 20 burials of adults and children); at Maritza (an adult and a child); at Continenza (two adults). This is not an innovation, as burials were also discovered in levels which pre-date the YD, sometimes just by a short span of time: this is probably the case of the two children of Fanciulli, as underlined above, but also of a child a Le Mura, and of several burials at Romito, not to mention other earlier Lateglacial sites where YD deposits do not occur (Mussi, 2007e2008, with references). Symbolic activity is indicated by both parietal and portable art. Geometric wall engravings occur at Arene Candide. Naturalistic engravings were also discovered at Balzi Rossi, Romito and Romanelli. The age is Lateglacial, but it is not possible to relate them specifically to the YD. In some instances it positively pre-dates this time range by a few millennia, as at Romito (Martini, 2002; Martini com. pers., 2010). Painted Azilian pebbles were mentioned at Arene Candide, Continenza, Serratura. A typical engraved Azilian pebble was also unearthed at Terlago, a Lateglacial open-air site of

Table 3 Changes in settlement size from the Late-Glacial Interstadial (L-GI) to the Early Holocene (EH) as suggested from sheltered and open-air Epigravettian sites, and two representative Early Mesolithic sites (Dalmeri and Lanzinger, 1992). Estimations have been inferred from the extention of dwellings (i.e. Riparo Dalmeri, Grotta Clusantin), or of zones with dense scatters of bones and flakes (i.e. Cogola), but more often from the lithics recovered in the soil and inter-connected by refitting and other indications (i.e. Palughetto).




Size (m2)

Lago delle Buse 1 Lago delle Buse 3 Palughetto Le Regole 2 Le Regole 1 Cogola* Clusantin Dalmeri Val Lastari*

5 5 4 5 4 16 12 15 33

Note that * indicates sites with multiple occupations.

northern Italy, but the chronology cannot be assessed into any detail (Bagolini and Dalmeri, 1983; Dalmeri, 1985). Azilian pebbles also occur at Madonna, in layers of apparently early Holocene age e which, however, probably need to be more accurately re-dated. Summing up, ritual and symbolic behavior are well documented, which could be a cultural reaction to a worsening environment e but they were rather similar to those of the previous millennia. Human groups had established contacts over long distances. They were able to negotiate natural barriers, such as mountain ranges and arms of the sea, as shown by the diffusion of some specific artwork, as well as raw materials. Long-distance relationships were not impeded, either, even over the Alps: Azilian pebbles point to direct relationships with sites in France. The same indication stems from the spread of innovations in lithic inventories, such as the geometric microliths, or the trapezoids which are found at this time from northern Italy to the southern Ukrainian plain and Crimea (Ferrari and Peresani, 2003). Central and eastern Alpine ranges were crossed at the time, as also demonstrated by haematite at Bus de La Lum and the findings of Altwasser-Höhle 1. This small cave site at 1410 m asl in the Säntis Massif of the Swiss Pre-Alps, has been 14C-dated at 11.7 ka cal. BP (ETH-9641: 10240  85 BP; ETH-14920: 10000  100 BP) and interpreted as a very short-lived hunting camp, on the basis of the faunal assemblage and the lithic inventory, which lacks endscrapers and includes only Epigravettian backed points and bladelets, as well as splintered pieces (Jagher et al., 2000). 6. Conclusions There is consistent evidence of a well-established human settlement during the YD. In the Alps, earlier sites were no longer in use, and new ones were settled; campsites were smaller, and shorter visits can be hypothesized. A continuous, but different use of the region, and a higher mobility pattern are suggested. On the Peninsula and in Sicily there is evidence of human groups living in coastal areas and within valleys, around lake basins and in inner mountain areas, all of which had already been peopled during the preceding millennia, when the climate was milder and forests had started to expand. Often the same cave sites were used as during the Alleröd. Temperatures were definitely colder, however: in the central Apennines, by 5.6e6.7 C below modern average during the YD, compared to less than 4.8  C below modern averages in the preceding millennia (Giraudi and Mussi, 1999). Arctic birds, including arctic marine birds, also point to sea and air temperatures considerably lower than today, even in southern Italy. Middle-size ungulates make up most of the faunal inventories, and include substantial numbers either of ibex or of hydruntine horse, accompanied by red deer and minor species, but birds, hare, fish, mollusks were important resources at some locales. Dramatic changes in hunting grounds happened later, during the early Holocene, when ibex was only found in the refugia of higher mountains, and hydruntine horse disappeared altogether. Ritual and symbolic behavior are well documented, which could be a cultural reaction to a worsening environment e but they were rather similar in the previous millennia. Human groups had established contacts over distances. They were able to negotiate natural barriers, as mountain ranges and arms of the sea, as evidenced by the diffusion of some specific artwork as well as raw materials. Summing up, in the pre-Alps there was a shift towards smaller and more ephemeral campsites, which can be taken as evidence of stress in the human adaptation to mountain environment; while elsewhere, including the Apennines, no such evidence is available. As far as Italy is concerned, the archaeological record of Lateglacial

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hunter-gatherers is indicative of a remarkable resilience to climatic change. Acknowledgements Luca Di Bianco and Fabio Martini kindly provided pictures of the Costiera Amalfitana and of Grotta del Romito respectively. Filiberto Scarpelli, Laboratorio di Paletnologia, Università di Roma La Sapienza, helped with computer graphics. M. Mussi elaborated the data referring to the south-central sites, M. Peresani those related to the northern sites. Lawrence Straus corrected the English, and he and a reviewer made several editorial suggestions. References Acanfora, O., 1967. Figurazioni inedite della grotta Romanelli. Presentazione preliminare. Bullettino di Paletnologia Italiana 18, 7e67. Aimar, A., Alciati, G., Broglio, A., Castelletti, L., Cattani, L., D’amico, C., Giacobini, G., Maspero, A., Peresani, M., 1992. Les Abris Villabruna dans la Vallèe du Cismon. Preistoria Alpina 28, 227e254. Alhaique, F., 2005. 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