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Premières communautés paysannes en Méditerranée occidentale

Jean Guilaine
Jean Courtin
Jean-Louis Roudil
et al.

Italie du nord et régions alpines

The earliest farming communities in northern Italy

Paolo Biagi et Renato Nisbet


Les auteurs présentent d’abord les principaux caractères et groupes culturels nord-italiens se rapportant au Néolithique ancien ainsi que l’implantation des habitats, le stade techno-économique, les données de la paléobotanique. Ces résultats sont comparés ensuite aux données du Néolithique accompli.
Si l’agriculture est implantée dès le Néolithique ancien, elle paraît limitée à certains sols. Le véritable impact agricole sur l’environnement sera plus tardif, s’étendant par ailleurs à des régions marginales.

Texte intégral

The First Neolithic (the archaeological setting)

1Whereas in the Po Valley and in the Alps the mesoli-thic stage appears to last for most of the Vth millennium bc (Biagi 1980), already towards the end of the VIth millennium the first evidence of neolithic settlement, belonging to a local version of the Impressed Ware Culture, is found along the coast of Western Liguria (Bernabò Brea 1946 ; 1956 ; Tinè 1973). At Arene Candide, where an impressive stratigraphy allows one to follow the cultural succession from the end of the Palaeolithic onwards, one can see how, with the Impressed Ware Culture, the first neolithic populations still carry on a considerable amount of hunting, mainly red deer, and the collection of marine mollusca, even though their basic subsistence relies on domesticated animais (Emiliani et al. 1964). The pottery of the period comprises vessels decorated with Cardium and, more frequently, incised chevron, zig-zag and triangular motifs, besides very large containers with plain cordons and tongue lugs. In the stone industry Castelnovian-type trapezes persist alongside new types of bifacial, flat-flaked trapezes. This cultural aspect seems to have lasted, without any substantial change in ceramic design, for about a millennium until there appear, still in the Arene Candide sequence, new plain forms, with burnished brown or black surfaces, in mainly single-handled cup shapes with knobs on their bellies (Bagolini, Biagi 1974). This phenomenon seems to confirm that around the end of the Vth millennium bc there was considerable influence from the Fiorano Culture of the Central Po Plain.

2In the eastern Ligurian hinterland, the only site attri-butable to the Early Neolithic so far found, is that of Suvero, in the mountains, where research carried out in recent years has produced pottery related to the late Impressed Ware tradition associated with flasks of a type known in the Po Valley, where it is recognized as being derived from Ripoli prototypes, and Sarteano-type handles. The stone industry is mainly in a green-brown coloured jasper, on narrow bladelets which include sickle blades with oblique polish (Maggi 1979-80).

Figure I : Distribution map of the first Neolithic sites of Northern Italy which gave seeds remains : 1) Cecima ; 2) Vhò ; 3) Albinea ; 4) Chiozza.

3Along the Adriatic coast, another Impressed Ware group was flourishing during the Vth millennium bc. The sites of Maddalena di Muccia and Ripabianca di Monterado (Lollini 1962) and the recent discoveries at Imola (Bagolini, von Eles 1978) and the sites of Riccione and Misano (Bagolini, Ghirotti 1980), indicate, in the area of the Marche and Romagna, activity of the Impressed Ware Culture. The decorated pottery of this area initially has decoration of f inger and tool impressions and later mainly incised triangles on tulip-shaped vessels.

4Beyond these two coastal groups, the earliest neolithic cultures in the Po Valley, are those of Fiorano, dis-tributed in Emilia and in the eastern Veneto (Malavolti 1951-52) and that of Vhò in Lombardy (Bagolini, Biagi 1975) while in Piedmont traces of the most recent western Impressed ware pottery (Bagolini, Biagi 1972-74), probably introduced by Ligurian elements who on cros-sing the Alpine/Apennine chain settled on open sites in Piedmont at Alba and at Il Cristo, Alessandria, as well as in the rock shelter of Vayes in the Susa Valley.

5The cultures of Vhò and Fiorano in the central Po Plain present close similarities. Their chronological position lies towards the end of the Vth millennium bc as in shown by the two radiocarbon dates from pit XVIII at Campo Ceresole, where imported Fiorano sherds were found in a Vhô group context (Biagi 1979). While in this latter cultural aspect most of our information cornes from old finds, even if recent work has been carried out at Riolo Terme and Savignano (Bernabô Brea et al. 1987), for the Vhò group on the other hand the situation is different. At Piadena, in south-eastern Lombardy, where there is a notable concentration of sites in a very small area, five years of excavation from 1974 to 1979 have been carried out. Another recent excavation was undertaken at the site of Dugali Alti di Ostiano, a few kilometers north west of Piadena, where there is a geomorphological situation similar to that of Piadena. A pit was also excavated in 1982 at Cecima in the Staffora Valley. In the 3000 square meters of settlement excavated at Vhò, Campo Ceresole, 69 pits have been found containing abundant ceramic finds among which are fine tulip-shaped ves-sels on pedestals and flask-shaped pots with incised decoration as well as, in the coarse ware, double-handled conical vessels decorated with finger-tip impressed cordons in garland motifs. The flint industry, which comes from surface exposures of the Garda moraines, included mainly artifacts on blades or bladelets, among which are burins on a notch, truncates, rhomboids and trapezes, denticulated blades and sickle blades with traces of oblique polish at the ends. The microburin technique was extensively employed for the production of truncated artifacts and the cores are usually prismatic or pyramidal.

Figure 2 : Distribution map of the full Neolithic sites of Northern Italy which gave seeds remains : 1) Arene Candide ; 2) Isolino di Varese ; 3) Lagozza ; 4) Acquanegra di Mosio ; 5) Fimon - Molino Casarotto ; 6) Rivarolo Mantovano ; 7) Casatico di Marcaria ; 8) Monte Covolo ; 9) La Vela di Trento ; 10) Tolérait ; 11) Aica di Fiè.

6The presence of sandstone or porphyritic querns and the sickle blades, as well as grains of Einkorn are evidence of agriculture on sites all located on slight emi-nences beyond the reach of the flooding of large rivers like the Oglio ; but on which hunting, fishing and col-lecting remained the basic subsistence economy (Biagi et al. 1983). The environmental and economic picture at Vhò is identical to that of Ostiano, while it seems very different from that found on Fiorano sites.

Figure 3 : Sickle blades from some Neolithic sites of Northern Italy : 1, 2) Campo Ceresole del Vhò di Piadena ; 3-8) Ostiano Dugali Alti ; 9-16) Quinzano Veronese.

7While the Fiorano pottery and the stone industry are well known (Malavolti 1951-52 ; Bagolini, Biagi 1977) the same cannot be said of the economy of the sites whose locations seem somewhat variable ; being in the open on sediment fans along the edge of the Apenni-nes, close to main water courses and probably also in marshy sites.

8Fiorano pottery is characterised by its forms and decoration ; typical are carenated cups with strap hand-les with small knots on their highest point, decorated with ’notenkopf’ motifs of double broad incisions ; the flasks are decorated in the same way, the open bowls and among the coarse wares the large four-handled ves-sels with concave bases and vertical cordon decoration. In the flint industry we find the same types as at Vhò and indeed this similarity applies to all the earliest Neolithic groups of the Po Valley and Friuli. From old evidence it appears that the economy of Fiorano is based more on domestic than wild fauna and that agriculture was important as is attested by grains of Barley and Wheat (Evett, Renfrew 1971). Beyond the Po Valley in Friuli, the only Early Neolithic site so far excavated is that of Fagnigola, while along the Adriatic coast it appears that the Marche and Romagna group of the Impressed Ware Culture was still active.

9At Fagnigola, near Pordenone, in an area of springs, on a slightly elevated position, several small pits were excavated in 1974 and 1978. These were cylindrical in shape and one at least was probably a storage pit. The finds from this site have led to the definition of the Fagnigola group (Biagi 1975). The pottery comprises carenated forms with restricted mouths and with complex cross-hatched incised decoration as well as inci-sed motifs, while the flint industry is similar to that of Vhò and Fiorano. Economic evidence is very limited but suggests a subsistence based on the hunting of the deer and wild boar and the collection of fruit and hazel-nuts. From the C14 dates we can see that the seulement flourished between the end of the Vth and the start of the IVth millennium bc.

10The sequence at the Riparo Gaban, in the Trentino, covers the period from the Early Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age. The Early Neolithic in which an earlier Mesolithic tradition of economy and flint industry is still much in evidence, has pottery of different types : impressed ware of the Adriatic tradition, burnished flask forms with central European « notenkopf » and Balkan-type designs which probably reached the Trentino by way of the Drava-Sava-Pusteria route, as very recent finds from the Inn Valley suggest (Bagolini, Biagi 1985).

11The varied affinities of the Gaban pottery with those of Isolino di Varese in north-western Lombardy (Gue-treschi 1976) suggest a cultural unity between these two alpine groups ; while a parallel homogeneity may be represented by the groups of Fiorano, Vhò and Fagnigola in the Po Plain and the Friuli, while yet another is represented by the coastal Impressed Ware groups of Liguria and the Marche and Romagna.

The First Neolithic (environmental evidence)

12The utilization of natural plant resources is found during the earliest Neolithic on some sites (Fiorano, Fagnigola and Ostiano) in the form of carbonised hazel-nut shells. On the other hand Early Neolithic sites pro-ducing large numbers of agricultural implements such as querns and sickles, like Fagnigola and Ostiano, are lacking in cultivated plant remains, probably because of the incomplete nature of the archaeological excavations. At present only four sites in the area from the Vth millennium bc have produced the remains of carbonised cereals : Vhò di Piadena, Campo Ceresole with Einkorn (Castelletti 1975), Chiozza with Barley (Evett, Renfrew 1971), Albinea, with Barley (Evett, Renfrew 1971) and Cecima in the Staffora Valley with Barley (Nisbet 1985).

13The topography of these sites is somewhat varied, ran-ging from the alluvial terraces of the Po Plain to lower valley river terrace (Cecima). The pedological characte-ristics of the sites are thus different, going from clayey soils with poor drainage like Vhò (Biagi, Cremaschi 1981) to lighter alluvial soils close to or in the Apennines ; on the other hand there seem to have been pedological and geomorphological reasons to assume that the soils at Vhò have drastically suffered from post-neolithic clearing of the forest environment by man, which has led to pro-found changes in soil texture (erosion, illuviation of the clay). Among the sites mentioned, the local woodland conditions can be noted in the charcoals only at Vhô and Cecima ; on the former site elements of the Querco-Fraxinetum (oak and ash forest) (Castelletti 1975), an association that is frequently found in charcoal analyses in the Po Plain during the Atlantic ; a similar association also appears to be present at Cecima (Fraxinus, Pirus/Cra-taegus) but together with a higher representation of local elements Populus, Pinus sp.). From this site come carbo-nized seeds of weeds, in a very poor state of preservation. Some seeds are almost spherical with short hylum, and have been identified as Vicia/Lathryrus (Vetch); others, with a circular profile, are certainly Cariophyllaceae of the genus Silene/Lychinis.

14The archaeological contexts in which seeds and fruits have been found are rather different, and do not permit a detailed examination of many palaeoethnobotanical aspects (for example type of collection, treatment for cleaning and storage). At Chiozza and Albinea the genus Hor-deum has been recognised by impressions on pottery ; in the cases of Vhò and Cecima, on the other hand, the finds come from pits containing charcoal, stone artifacts and pottery, which are interpreted as rubbish pits.

15To these sites can be added those on which agricultu-ral artifacts have been found (Imola, Riccione, Rivaltella, Fiorano, Vhò, Ostiano, Cavriana). All these places, with the exception of the alpine site of Aica (?) (Bagolini et al. 1982), are in open plain environment, with vegetation dominated by the so-called mixed oak forest (only Quer-cus in the charcoal from Imola (identified by Castelletti (unpublished)) ; decidous oak, ash, Pirus/Crataegus, Sorbus at Ostiano, (identified by Nisbet (unpublished)).

The Full Neolithic (the archaeological setting)

16At the start of the IVth millennium bc, Northern Italy was united by a single cultural unity, that of the Square-Mouthed Pottery, which in turn can be subdivided, on the basis of material finds, into three phases : the first with pottery decorated in linear scratched style ; the second with scratched and incised motifs including spiral meander motifs ; the third, when the cultural area is restricted to the regions of eastern Lombardy, the Veneto and the Trentino - South Tyrol due to the encroachment of the Chassey culture, with pottery decorated with incisions and impressions (Bagolini et Al. 1979 ; Biagi 1982).

17In the flint industry pressure-flaked tanged arrowheads made on blades, large long end scrapers ; and sickle blades with use wear along a whole edge oppo-sed to a backed edge appear during the earliest stage. In the middle stage the types of arrowheads increase which now include also triangular examples with a concave base as well as the first transverse tanged examples ; in the late phase laurel-leaf and heartshaped arrowheads predominate as well as pressure flaked end scrapers and burins on a retouched truncation.

18In the economy of the Square-Mouthed Pottery culture, on almost all sites, stock raising predominates, mainly cattle and secondly caprovines, while some specialized sites appear to have been occupied as seasonal encampments for hunting, fishing and collection of wild produce.

The Full Neolithic (environmental evidence)

19Four sites are known on which evidence of cultivation has been documented dating to the first part of the middle Neolithic ; these are sites on the plain, on valley bottoms or in coastal areas.

20In the lakeside settlement of Fimon cultivation of Wheat is in evidence (Triticum sp.) (Bagolini et al. 1973) together with a certain quantity of wild plants associa-ted with lake environment (water chestnut), or woodland (Vitis, grape). Weed seeds also appear to be présent (Polygonum). The earliest agricultural evidence from the Trentino comes from the settlement on the alluvial fan at La Vela di Trento, with Einkorn, Emmer and perhaps a hexaploid Wheat (Triticum aestivum ?) (Castelletti unpublished) ; at Casatico, a site on an alluvial terrace on the plain, Barley is represented (Castelletti unpublished) ; at the cave settlement of Arene Candide Emmer and Barley were present (Evett, Renfrew 1971). Nothing is known about the floral environment of thèse parti-cular sites, for which the pollen analyses indicate a gênerai mixed Oak Forest. Naturally it is possible that sites like Fimon and Arene Candide are affected by very local factors (exposure, morphology and hydrology ?).

21The archaeological contexts are rather varied, with inhabited structures (Fimon), living surfaces (Arène Candide), hut interiors (La Vela) (Bagolini, Biagi 1976a) and pits associated with pottery production (Casatico) (Biagi et al. 1983). The archaeobotanical evidence was collec-ted by flotation at the excavation (Fimon and La Vela) or on samples of soil in the laboratory in other cases.

22In the later period of the Middle Neolithic, traces of agriculture have been recognised on the alluvial ter-races of the Po Plain at Mosio (Acquanegra Sui Chiese) with Triticum monococcum, Triticum dicoccum, Hor-deum vulgare (Nisbet 1985) in a probable rubbish pit and at Rivarolo Mantovano (Hordeum sp., Pisum sp.) (Castelletti unpublished) in rubbish pits. On this latter site the earliest cultivation of legumes so far found in northern Italy was recorded.

23At the start of the third millennium bc with the Lagozza culture which had now replaced the Square-Mouthed Pottery culture over the whole of the Po Valley, agriculture is practised on lake sites, on the plain, and in the Alps.

24Lagozza is the best documented site. On this lakeside site Einkorn and Emmer Wheat and Triticum aestivo compactum, flax and Barley are present (Cornaggia Castiglioni 1955) while other plants are documented by Papaver somniferum, Physalis alkekengi, Fragaria Vesca, Malus Sylvestris, Rubus idaeus, Vitis sylvestris and Quercus (cotiledons). In a similar location at Iso-lino di Varese, only Emmer Wheat and Barley were identified (Evett, Renfrew 1971). A group of sites in the area of Garda and the Adige Valley has produced evidence of the adaptation of the farming economy of the Plain to mountain conditions. At Monte Covolo Barley, and Einkorn and Emmer Wheath were cultivated, but the environment also encouraged a variety of alternative plant foods (Physalis alkekengi, Prunus, Vitis) ; a seed of Rumex could represent weed infestation (Pals, Voorrips 1979). Of particular interest for the alpine economic development, is Aica di Fiè where at about 1000 m. altitude evidence of Barley ecultivation is attested (Nisbet 1985), carried out at the upper limits of the valley bottom woodland (oak, ash, Sorbus) and the pine woods of the higher slopes (Bagolini et al. 1982). We should mention in this context the even later site of Tolérait (Chalcolithic) on the valley floor of the Adige between Trento and Bolzano. From this site has been obtained Einkorn, Emmer and Barley (Castelletti unpublished).


25In spite of the limited amount of evidence in our possession concerning artifacts relating to agriculture, it is possible to say something from an analysis of above all the stone artifacts. With the Impressed Ware culture in Western Liguria at Arene Candide, we find the first quern stones in a context of already well-developed stock raising even though hunting remains important as well as the collection of wild produce and fishing. Also, along the coastline of the Marche and Romagna where the diet of the people of the same culture was primarily on the raising of caprovines and pigs, sickle blades with oblique silica gloss from San Salvatore di Riccione and querns from Imola and Misano Adriatico are evidence of agriculture. In the Vhò group, both the recently excavated sites of Campo Ceresole and Dugali Alti di Ostiano, have produced quern fragments of alpine origin besides sickle blades on broken and trun-cated bladelets, with oblique gloss. Sickles of this type are known at Fagnigola in Friuli and at Suvero in eas-tern Ligurian hinterland, while in the Fiorano culture they are found in Fiorano itself where we also have querns ; also known from Albinea, Rivaltella and Savignano. In the Tirolean and Trentino group of Gaban a lower quern was found at Pradestel and upper querns at Pradestel and Gaban.

26The scarcity of sites means that no conclusive interpretation of the palaeoethnobotany can yet be made with certainty. In fact the presence of Einkorn and Barley in Vth millennium bc contexts agrees well with our knowledge of contemporary sites in west Central Europe or southern Italy ; the absence of cultivars already noted in the earliest farming economies elsew-here, such as Emmer and hexaploid Wheat and légumes cannot yet be explained with such incomplète évidence. These plants have been recognized already north of the Alps (for example at Baume de Gonvillars, 4300 bc ; Fontbrégoua, 4700 bc ; Hienheim, Bandkeramik) and in Iberia (Coveta de l’Or, 4300 bc).

27The natural environment in which thèse earliest forms of agriculture are found is represented in the majority of cases by the so-called « mixed Oak Forest » which requires deep fertile fresh soil ; that is the type of soil that would have been suitable for « slash and burn » agriculture which would not have needed any spécial artificial enrichment of the soil. Of the IVth millennium sites attributed to the Square Mouthed Pottery Culture many of these have produced sickle blades, upper and lower querns. As happens in Central Europe and in the Balkan Peninsula it is to be noted that the sickle blades from the start of the Middle Neolithic are no longer hafted obliquely but are set in rows parallel with the haft with backing opposite the cutting edge. This would indicate that a different type of reaping technique was in use at this time.

28The variable pedological conditions of the Early Neolithic which range from fairly compact soils in some areas of the Plain to others in valleys which are lighter, are later, from the start of the Middle Neolithic, complicated by the presence of lakeside sites on the plain and in the mountains. In particular it appears that the first important land improvement activities probably for agriculture may date back to the Middle Neolithic (Corsi di Isera) (Barfield 1967-69). This kind of drastic impact on the environment is also confirmed by palynological évidence from other pre-alpine sites of somewhat more recent date, as at the Lake of Biandronno (Schneider 1978), in connection with agricultural activity.



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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure I : Distribution map of the first Neolithic sites of Northern Italy which gave seeds remains : 1) Cecima ; 2) Vhò ; 3) Albinea ; 4) Chiozza.
Fichier image/jpeg, 340k
Légende Figure 2 : Distribution map of the full Neolithic sites of Northern Italy which gave seeds remains : 1) Arene Candide ; 2) Isolino di Varese ; 3) Lagozza ; 4) Acquanegra di Mosio ; 5) Fimon - Molino Casarotto ; 6) Rivarolo Mantovano ; 7) Casatico di Marcaria ; 8) Monte Covolo ; 9) La Vela di Trento ; 10) Tolérait ; 11) Aica di Fiè.
Fichier image/jpeg, 340k
Légende Figure 3 : Sickle blades from some Neolithic sites of Northern Italy : 1, 2) Campo Ceresole del Vhò di Piadena ; 3-8) Ostiano Dugali Alti ; 9-16) Quinzano Veronese.
Fichier image/jpeg, 326k

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