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Premières communautés paysannes en Méditerranée occidentale

Jean Guilaine
Jean Courtin
Jean-Louis Roudil
et al.

Méditerranée adriatique, rapports avec le monde Égéen et les Balkans

The first farmers in the Adriatic and their position in the Neolithic of the Mediterranean

Ruth Whitehouse


L’auteur examine les matériaux néolithiques de l’Est de l’Italie pour comprendre les dates d’apparition des traits divers de l’évidence archéologique (selon la chronologie au C14). On conclut qu’un mode de vie vraiment néolithique - les villages, l’économie de production, fondée sur l’élevage et la culture des céréales, l’emploi de la pierre polie et de l’obsidienne - existait dans le Sud-Est de l’Italie avant 5200 bc. Pour comprendre mieux le processus de la néolithisation et les rapports entre cette zone et les autres régions de la Méditerranée, on a besoin des nouvelles recherches en sites datés de la première moitié du 6e millénaire bc, employant des méthodes modernes, par exemple le « froth flotation ».

Texte intégral

1This paper concentrates on the Neolithic of eastern Italy, but also looks briefly at the evidence from the other side of the Adriatic, in western Greece and Dalmatia.

2The Neolithic of eastern Italy, especially southeast Italy, is in one sense well known. The work of scholars such as Mayer (1904 ; 1924), Mosso (1910), Rellini (1934) and Ridola (1912 ; 1924-26) in the early part of this century brought the remarkable settlements, the villaggi trincerati and the fine decorated pottery styles of these cultures to the attention of prehistorians generally. Since then aerial photography, firstly by Bradford and Williams-Hunt (Bradford and Williams-Hunt 1946 ; Bradford 1949 ; 1950) and later by the Aerofototeca of Rome (Odetti 1975), has greatly increased the numbers of known villaggi trincerati. At the same time many scholars, including Stevenson (1947), Bernabò Brea (1962), myself (Whitehouse 1969) and Tinè (1975), have devoted much time to the study of the pottery styles.

3In another sense, however, the eastern Italian Neolithic is still little known. We still know astonishingly little about the nature of the settlements, subsistence economy or social organisation. Excavations in recent years on a number of sites, including Passo di Corvo, Monte Aquilone, Rendina and Grotta Scaloria, among others, have begun to remedy this situation ; however, for most of these sites we do not yet have final publications and have to make do with interim accounts (including Tine 1972 ; 1975 ; Manfredini 1972 ; Cipol-loni Sampò 1973 ; 1975 ; 1980 : Winn and Shimabuku 1980).

4We also lack good information about the development of the Italian Neolithic, in terms of both absolute and relative chronology. Some years ago I attempted to gather together the available radiocarbon dates for Italian prehistory and to discuss the information they provided (Whithouse 1978). The appendix to the present paper updates this information for the Neolithic of eastern Italy ; it also employs the new calibration table published by the Workshop on Calibrating the Radiocarbon Time Scale (Klein, Lerman, Damon and Ralph 1982), which expresses the corrected dates as ranges at the 95 % confidence level. The discussion that follows is based on the chronology provided by these dates. They are too few to provide a well - established chronology, but they do provide a starting point for discussion.

5Many authorities feel that the absence of a firm absolute chronology is compensated for by the elaboration of relative chronological schemes. The seven-phase scheme for the southeast Italian Neolithic propounded by Tinè (1975) is widely used by Italian scholars and provides a useful relative chronological framework to which absolute dates (provided by radiocarbon) can be pegged at various points. This gives the impression of a fixed and relatively precise chronology, but in my opinion (e.g. Whitehouse 1969) such an impression is illusory. Such schemes, however convenient to use, represent a distortion of the reality, making little allowance for such factors as the co-existence of different pottery styles for considerable periods, differential development in different areas etc. (Incidentally, I am not the only person to find difficulty with the application of the more elaborate schemes : see, for example, Winn and Shimabuku 1980 : 13). It is worth noting that the subdivisions of the more elaborate schemes are based on ceramic typology alone. No other cultural traits can be demonstrated to be characteristic of one phase alone or to be introduced at the same time as a new pottery type (with the possible exception of one or two traits of late phases - VI and VII in Tinè’s scheme). In this article I shall use a simple 4-phase scheme. This is outlined in Table I, along with Tinè’s more elaborate scheme.

6For the purpose of this conference we are particularly interested in the first phase, i.e. my Early Neolithic, Tinè’s Phase I. However, this phase remains elusive in the archaeological record. I no longer feel as I used to (Whitehouse 1968a ; 1968b) that there may have been no phase with « pure » Impressed Ware in southern Italy. The weight of evidence from the West Mediterranean for the early appearance of pottery and other Neolithic traits is now so strong that it is difficult to deny the possibility of an equally early occurrence in Italy. However, it remains true that sites or deposits that can be assigned to this phase are very few. Moreover they are assigned to this phase on the basis of pottery typology alone (if we ignore the « hearsay » radiocarbon date from Coppa Nevigata) and we cannot discount the possibility that I suggested in 1968, i.e. that these sites are in fact contemporary with sites with more developed pottery styles, but reflect a different lifestyle. If we do accept the sites as belonging to an early phase, we note that many of them are on or close to the coast or on islands (e.g. Coppa Nevigata, Grotta delle Mura, Grotta del Guardiano, Torre a Mare, Prato Don Michele (Whitehouse 1968a)). Early sites are rare inland. In her excellent surface survey of sites in the Ofanto valley on the southern edge of the Tavoliere, Cipolloni Sampò (1980) recorded 51 Neolithic settlements : of these 49 produced 5th millennium bc material (38 of which produced neither earlier nor later material). Only 7 sites produced material which Cipolloni assigned to the 6th millennium and there is no strong reason to regard any of these as earlier than the late 6th millennium (the earliest phase at Rendina, with impressed and plain burnished wares has a radiocarbon date of 5160 ± 140 bc). Before c 5200 bc settlement was either absent or very sparse in the Ofanto valley. Interestingly, there appears to be a similar scarcity of 4th millennium bc sites, which poses other problems, beyond the scope of the present paper. The detailed survey of the Ofanto valley reflects the situation on the Tavoliere itself, where the majority of sites seems to belong to the 5th millennium bc. Only a few sites can be assigned to the 6th millennium bc. e.g. Guadone (type site of Tine’s phase II), and none need be early in that millennium. (Tinè and Bernabò Brea 1980). A possibly early group of sites has been recorded recently in the lower Fortore valley, on the northern side of the Tavoliere (Masseria Bivento and Masseria Settimo di Grotte (Gravina 1980)). But in the absence of excavation and radiocarbon dating these cannot be dated securely.

7The scarcity of inland sites of the earlier 6th millennium bc may be related to the lower sea level in the Adriatic at least before 6000 bc (e.g. Van Straaten 1970). Before this date present day coastal sites were not at the time of occupation on the coast. As Chapman (1981) has indicated for the Adriatic itself and Lewthwaite (1981) for the West Mediterranean generally, many 7th millennium bc and perhaps some later sites might be lost below present sea level. Chronological data for the rise in sea level are insufficiently precise to date the highest level of the Flandrian transgression at all precisely (and there were certainly local variations due to variable isostatic factors). However, it may have been between 6000 and 5000 bc, the very period of our elusive Early Neolithic phase. It would be possible to construct a model which explained the spread of settlements into the inland plain of the Tavoliere and along river valleys like the Fortore and the Ofanto as a direct response to the rise in sea level and the restriction of the area previously available for settlement. Such a model would assume the existence of sites of the earlier period below sea level and might well interpret the known sites of this period as atypical positioned on the fringes of the hypothetically settled area (« in the caves and shelters in the hilly flanks of the Fertile Crescent », as Lewthwaite describes the location of sites in the West Mediterranean (Lewthwaite 1981 : 297)).

8Such a model seems plausible, but there is insufficient evidence to test it at present. We have to accept that there is very little known about the Early Neolithic phase. If we are to study the nature of the east Italian Neolithic, we must start from the better known sites of the Middle Neolithic (dated approximately 5200 - 4100 BC, 6000 - 5000 BC). In the following section I shall look at various aspects of the communities of this period.


9The normal settlement form of the southeast Italian Neolithic is the ditched farmstead or village (villaggio trincerato). Radiocarbon dates indicate that this type of settlement was present as early as 5200 bc (Rendina) and was still in use at least as late as 4200 bc (Passo di Corvo). We do not know whether they continued in use in the 4th millennium bc in southeast Italy or not ; it is often assumed that they did not, at least on the Tavoliere. As well as ditched settlements, some unenclosed settlements are known and some caves were occupied (although the use of caves was mostly for burial and other ritual purposes). However, although the data cannot be presented quantitatively without distortion (since the 1000 or so sites on the Tavoliere discovered from the air would create a serious bias in the sample), it does seem that the ditched settlement was the norm, not only on the Tavoliere, but in other areas of southeast Italy too, such as the Materano and the Adriatic coastal strip.

10Ditched settlements are also known in southeast Sicily in the Stentinello culture ; no radiocarbon dates are available, but 5th millennium bc dates seem probable.

11On the other side of the Adriatic, the site of Asfaka in Epirus, with a date of c 5400 bc, may well be a ditched village. Further north, in Dalmatia, Neolithic sites are either caves or unenclosed settlements in the open. Ditched villages are not normal here at any stage, although the site of Smilcić was surrounded by a shallow ditch at one stage in its occupation (in the settlement of the Danilo culture, 5th millennium bc).

12The situation in east central Italy presents a contrast to that of southeast Italy. Here 5th millennium bc sites are either caves or unditched settlements in the open. Ditched villages appear only in the 4th millennium bc, with radiocarbon dates in the range 3700 - 3200 bc (Ripoli and Fossacesia). Barker (1981 : 148) suggests that in this area the 4th millennium bc sites indicate some agricultural intensification, with an extension of settlement from the previously preferred ridge locations to the margins of the alluvial valleys : both Ripoli and Fossacesia are on river terraces.

13To summarize, the ditched village form was present in the southern Adriatic from mid - 6th millennium bc and lasted throughout the 5th. In east central Italy it appears only in the 4th millennium bc on river terrace sites. In Dalmatia the ditched form was exceptionnal. The ditched village form is almost exclusively restricted to the Adriatic zone ; in Italy the only certain ditched Neolithic site west of the Apennines is Pienza in central Tuscany. To my knowledge the form does not occur either in the Aegean or in the West Mediterranean.


14We still know disappointingly little about individual house plans or settlement layout in the Neolithic of eastern Italy. For a number of different reasons, the various claims made for hut or house foundations seem unconvincing. The hollows or pits so often described as fondi di capanne in earlier and some recent reports are better regarded as storage pits. The four-post structure within a C-ditch enclosure at Passo di Corvo originally described by Tinè (1972) as a house, proved subsequently to belong to a different phase of occupation and to be part of a vast grid of pits covering 7000 m2. This misunderstanding neatly illustrates a problem that occurs almost universally on the Tavoliere : since deep ploughing has destroyed all deposits down to the crosta, it is difficult to relate different features cut into the crosta, unless they happen to cut each other at some point. This might apply not only to Tinè’s apparent hut at Passo di Corvo, but also to the trapezoidal post-built structure at Casone, excavated by De Juliis (1975), which seems to fit rather ill within the enclosing C-ditch. A trapezoidal stone built structure is recorded at Monte Aquilone, but its chronological position is unclear. (Manfredini 1972).

15So far in southeast Italy no buildings have been found of the type excavated by Ammerman and his colleagues on the sand-dune sites of Calabria : these are rectangular or sub-rectangular structures measuring c 4-5 m by 3-4 m, with walls of daub on a wooden framework, but without specially constructed floors (the surface of the sand-dunes themselves being used) (Ammerman and Bonardi 1981). The best evidence for house plans from any Neolithic site in eastern Italy remains the Azzollini site at Molfetta, excavated by Mosso in the early years of this century (Mosso 1910) (Figs. 1 and 2). This is one of the very few sites where floors survive ; they are circular or oval in shape and measure a mere 2.5 -3 m in diameter. In spite of their small size, they are too large to represent hearths and must be presumed to be the complete floor area of dwellings. The so-called « sanctuary » site at Terlizzi is of similar size, but has a paved stone floor (Mosso and Samarelli 1910). Unfortunately neither of these sites provides useful information about site layout. Although some 40 hut floors were found on the Azzollini site at Molfetta, we do not know how many are missing from the site plan. The mazelike structure shown on the plans (in black on Fig. 1, in outline on Fig. 2) represents Mosso’s excavation ; the unexcavated areas, concealing an unknown number of huts, were presumably his spoil heaps.

Figure 1 : Molfetta : general plan.

16The very small area of these hut floors is notable : the surface areas fall in the range of c 5-10 m2. If we use Naroll’s calculations on floor areas required per person, these are big enough to house one person at most (Naroll 1962). One might suggest that they were grouped in clusters to form compounds (for discussion of different aspects of this settlement form see Flannery 1972 ; David 1971). It is worth noting that, on a purely speculative basis, we could apply this model also to the Tavoliere settlements. The « C-ditches » or « hut-enclosure ditches » inside the settlements range in diameter from c 15 to c 45 m ; they could as easily enclose half a dozen small circular huts as one large square or rectangular house.

17In view of the meagre evidence available on house form or layout, it is difficult to make comparisons with other areas. It would be true to say, however, that there are no very close parallels with the rectangular houses, built either of timber and clay or of stone, found in the Aegean Neolithic.

Figure 2 : Molfetta : plan of the Azzollini site.

Table 1 : Schemes for dividing up the Southeast Italian Neolithic.

Subsistence economy

18Although the situation is improving, there is still little evidence available on the subsistence economy of the eastern Italian sites. If we try to pinpoint the earliest occurrence of domesticates clearly dated (i.e associated with radiocarbon dates), we find that all the main domesticated animals were being kept by c 4600 bc (Leopardi, Maddalena di Muccia) and emmer and barley were being cultivated by the same date (Leopardi). Unfortunately we do not as yet have faunal or floral reports from Rendina or Scaramella di San Vito (with early radiocarbon dates), but it is generally assumed that the ditched settlements were based on mixed farming, since they are generally well placed for arable land (Jarman and Webley 1975) and bones of domesticated animals dominated on all reported sites. It seems likely therefore that the full mixed farming economy was being practised (though not on all sites : pastora-lism seems to have dominated on some, e.g. Maddalena di Muccia (Barker 1981 : 147)) probably as early as 5200 bc. Indeed it is interesting to note that the site of Prato Don Michele on the Tremiti Islands, the type site of Tinè’s Phase I, has produced flint blades with « sickle gloss ». If this site does indeed belong to an earlier phase, it suggests that agriculture may have appeared still earlier in the 6th millennium bc.

19The evidence for subsistence economy, meagre though it is, is entirely consistent with a derivation from the east Mediterranean. The recorded plants (emmer and einkorn wheats and barley) ; the domesticated animals (sheep, goat, cattle, pig and dog) and the relative proportions of the different animals (with caprines dominating on most, though not all, sites) all show similarities with the Neolithic economy of Greece and the Balkans. It is also similar to the mixed farming economy of many 5th millennium bc sites in the West Mediterranean.

20Economic evidence from the other side of the Adriatic is exiguous. Tringham (1971) suggested that neither agriculture nor stock breeding was practised by Early Neolithic communities in Dalmatia and that farming techniques were introduced during the Middle Néolithic. This view has been challenged by Chapman who argues that the caprines which appear on Early Neolithic Impressed Ware sites in Dalmatia by 5200 bc are true domesticates (Chapman 1981 ; 1982). He also argues that, although the absence of plant remains from Dalmatian Neolithic sites (since froth flotation has not been used in this area) means that we cannot demonstrate that agriculture was practised, nonetheless land-use studies indicate that almost all Early Neolithic sites, caves and open settlements alike, have good arable land within their territories and could have supported mixed farming communities. It seems quite likely that a mixed farming economy based mainly on caprines and cereals was established on both sides of the Adriatic at least by 5200 bc (around 6000 bc in calendar years).



21Pottery appears from the beginning of the « Early Neolithic » phase, characterised by the use of Impressed Ware. If this is a true phase in southeast Italy, it probably begins before 5500 bc and perhaps even before 6000 bc (if one accepts the « hearsay » date from Coppa Nevigata). It is absolutely certainly in existence by 5200 bc. On the other side of the Adriatic plain wares are dated c 5700 bc at Sidari on Corfu, while Impressed Ware is dated to c 5400 bc at Asfaka in Epirus, as well as at Sidari ; in Dalmatia it is dated to c 5200 bc at Gudnja. At an early date a series of other wares appears in southeast Italy : plain burnished wares (Rendina I) ; a ware painted with broad bands of darkish colour on a burnished grey surface (Rendina, late in phase I) ; La Quercia Ware, decorated with impressed rocker patterns and painted designs in thin brown lines on a grey ground (Rendina II, Scaramella di San Vito) ; red painted ware and white painted ware (a few sherds on several probably early sites). The tendency among scholars has been to arrange these wares, especially the decorated ones, in a rigid « chest-of-drawers » chronological sequence, but the radiocarbon evidence, as far as it goes, suggests that in fact the different styles of painted ware all came into existence in the period c 5200-4800 bc. In Dalmatia it now seems that the Danilo culture, characterised by fine bichrome and trichrome painted wares, emerged in the period 4800-4600 bc, earlier than had been expected (Chapman 1982).

22Eastern Italian Impressed Wares bear a generic likeness to Impressed Wares found in other areas of the Mediterranean, but show no very close similarities. Parallels for various of the Italian painted wares have been sought in the Aegean, e.g. for Rendina painted ware in that of Elateia in central Greece (Cipolloni Sampò 1980 : 293), but the similarities are of a rather general nature and there is no place where parallels for all or most of the Italian painted ware styles occur together. I am in agreement with Chapman’s conclusion (1982) that « the clear inference is the existence in the Adriatic zone and northern Greece of several broadly independent painted ware zones, whose partially overlapping styles and motifs are consonant with a low but regular level of contact and interaction ».

Ground stone

23Ground stone axes occur on most Neolithic sites, including some of the presumed very early ditched village sites in the lower Fortore valley (Gravina 1980). No thin section analyses have been carried out on Italian ground stone axes, but Evett’s visual analysis indicates that « greenstones » occur on 5th millennium bc sites in east central Italy (Maddalena di Muccia and Ripabianca di Monterado) and in southeast Italy (Murgia Timone, Murgecchia and Tirlecchia) (Evett 1975). He argues that sources (certainly not local) are in northern Italy ; there are, however, alternative sources in Calabria and Campania which may have been exploited.


24A number of different types of flint industry occur :

  1. Industries often labelled « typically Neolithic », characterized by a restricted range of types, including simple blades and flakes with or without retouch, as well as scrapers and points. Industries of this type occur widely on sites evidence of mixed farming economies.

  2. Industries with an apparent Epi-Palaeolithic component, including geometric microliths, trapezes and carefully retouched blades, including some backed blades. Industries of this type occur in central Italy (e.g. Maddalena di Muccia) and in the south (Grotta della Mura) and are associated with economies in which hunting was of considerable, even dominant, importance (Barker 1981 ; Whitehouse 1971).

  3. The « Sipontian » industry of Coppa Nevigata, comprising a variety of small implements apparently designed to open cockle shells (Puglisei 1955).

  4. The Macchia a Mare or « Campignian » industry of the Gargano promontory, comprising macrolithic tools, mostly tranchet axes and chisel-like implements. Tools of these types appear on the Tavoliere, south of the Gargano, and at Ripoli to the north and are occasionally found further afield. They appear on sites of Neolithic (and Copper Age) date, but have not yet been found in very early contexts.


25Obsidian was in use from an early stage, occurring on the presumably early sites in the lower Fortore valley (Gravina 1980). Indeed it occurs in the earliest ceramic level at Grotta della Mura, which may belong to the earliest - Early Neolithic - phase of the early 6th millennim bc. It is known that Sardinian obsidian was being exploited by the early 6th millennium, as it occurs on sites in Corsica of this date, but the analysed obsidians from eastern Italy all came from either Lipari or Palmarola (Cann and Renfrew 1976 ; Hallam, Warren and Renfrew 1976). The analysed samples all come from sites of certainly or probably 5th millennium date, but it is possible that the sources on Lipari and Palmarola were exploited as early as those on Sardinia.


26Our survey of the Neolithic evidence from eastern Italy has indicated that by 5200 bc at the latest the full Neolithic « package » was in existence, including village settlement, a mixed farming economy, ground stone tools and exchange networks involving greenstone and obsidian from distant sources. The dated sites are probably not the very earliest : they have not produced the typologically earliest material, nor are they in the positions where one might expect the earliest farming settlements (Rendina, for instance, is far inland in the upper Ofanto-valley) ; moreover the existence of exchange networks involving resources in islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea, in Calabria and perhaps in northern Italy implies a preceding period in which they were established.

27These conclusions are not particularly helpful in trying to assess the position of the eastern Italian Neolithic in relation to the Neolithic of other areas of the Mediterranean. The very early appearance of the full Neolithic way of life in southeast Italy might argue for a true colonisation, introducing the complete Neolithic « package » ; the lack of demonstrable continuity from the Mesolithic, especially in the south, would point in the same direction. On the other hand, the lack of close parallels for anything except the subsistence economy itself in any other region suggests that the east Italian Neolithic, with its distinctive settlement type and decorated pottery styles, is a specifically Adriatic adaptation. Not only is it difficult to see the east Italian Neolithic as derivative of the Aegean Neolithic ; it is equally difficult to see it as ancestral to the Neolithic of the West Mediterranean. Even in western Italy, the other side of the Apennines, there are few close parallels, either in settlement type or in equipment. Even the ubiquitous Impressed Ware takes very different forms on the two sides of the Apennines. It is not even possible to establish clear chronological priority in the east Italian area : certainly cereal agriculture seems to appear earlier in Apulia, but traits such as pottery and domesticated sheep seem on present evidence earlier in southern France and Corsica.

28Whether we favour a full-scale immigration to explain the beginnings of farming in the southern Adriatic or a gradual and piecemeal adoption of Neolithic traits, it is likely that the process occurred in the early 6th millennium bc. There is need now for new research into this elusive period. We need sites dated to this period by radiocarbon rather than by pottery typology alone, examined with the aid of modern techniques of data recovery, including froth flotation. Only with new data of this sort can we assess the « neolithisation » process in eastern Italy and its relationship to other areas of the Mediterranean.

Appendix: List of radiocarbon dates.



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Winn (S.M.M.) and Shimabuku, D.M. 1980. The Heritage of Two Subsistence Strategies : Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Grotta Scaloria, Southeastern Italy 1978. Occasional Papers in Anthropology no. 9. Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1 : Molfetta : general plan.
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Légende Figure 2 : Molfetta : plan of the Azzollini site.
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Légende Table 1 : Schemes for dividing up the Southeast Italian Neolithic.
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Légende Appendix: List of radiocarbon dates.
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