Institutul pentru Cercetarea Patrimoniului Cultural Transilvanean n Context European

ACTA TERRAE SEPTEMCASTRENSIS IV

ISSN 1583-1817

Editura Economică, Sibiu 2004

Author: Paolo BIAGI

pages:11-21

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UPDATING OLD CONCEPTS ON THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE BALKANS AND NORTHERN ITALY DURING THE NEOLITHIC

 

 

 

NOI CONTRIBUŢII PRIVIND VECHILE CONCEPTE CU PRIVIRE LA LEGĂTURILE DINTRE BALCANI ŞI NORDUL ITALIEI

N TIMPUL NEOLITICULUI

 

Scopul lucrării este acela de a duce la zi cunoştinţele referitoare la relaţiile dintre regiunea Balcanilor şi nordul Italiei n epoca neolitică, n baza unor noi descoperiri şi a unor recente luări de poziţie referitoare la acestea. Impresia generală a fost că majoritatea obiectelor de cult din nordul Italiei nu pot fi puse n legătură directă cu regiunea balcanică, chiar dacă unele ar putea face parte din sisteme ideologice similare.

 

Preface.

The interest of the Italian prehistorians in the relationships between the Balkan Peninsula and Italy began to arise during the Forties and the Fifties. In those years, the excavations under way at the Arene Candide Cave in Western Liguria revealed, for the first time, material culture, ornaments and "cult" items that L. BERNABO BREA (1946: 284-302) described to reflect "Balkan influences". A few years later, P. LAVIOSA ZAMBOTTI (1954) wrote a long paper on the prehistory of the Balkans and Italy. In the first chapter of her work she pointed out the importance of the Adriatic Basin in the relationships between the two countries. Following this author "L'!talia Adriatica dunque nelle eta preistoriche e protostoriche e cosi intimamente dipendente dalla finitima terra Balcanica che e giocoforza di considerare i suoi sviluppi culturali nel rapporto di intima dipendenza da quelli della penisola finitima nell'estremo nord-est della penisola l'Italia e il retroterra istriano legano la terra balcanica al Veneto" (LA VIOSA ZAMBOTTI, 1954: 167).

According to BERNABO BREA (1946: 284), the Balkan influences were characterized by the appearance of square-mouthed vessels in the Middle Neolithic layers of the Arene Candide Cave, just above the Early Neolithic Impressed Ware horizons, because of the presence of very distintive new elements such as "il vaso a bocca quadrata e a bocca quadrilobata, Ie pintadere, i vasetti a pipa, gli idoletti fittili, la ceramica dipinta, quella con decorazione rilevata ed incavata, il motivo decorativo della spirale, gli anelli di Spondylus ecc".

Although we now know that many of these characters do not necessarily indicate any Balkan influence on northern Italy, the Arene Candide Middle Neolithic Square-Mouthed Pottery layers, which are radiocarbon-dated between the beginning and the middle of the sixth millennium uncal. BP (MAGGI and CHELLA 1999), undoubtedly show that important changes took place at the turn of


the seventh millennium uncal. BP. This new culture seems to be rooted into the late aspects of the Impressed Ware Culture, as both the new excavations at the Arene Candide and the results of the research currently in progress in the neighbouring Provence should indicate (BINDER pers. comm. 2003).

Reverting to the above-mentioned paper of P. Laviosa Zambotti, it is important to point out the relevance she gave to the relationships between Dalmatia and eastern Veneto in prehistory. Her observations antedate the results obtained from the excavations carried out in the Plain of Friuli during the last twenty years, which clearly show that, at least at the beginning of the Neolithic, this region and the Trieste Karst were part of the Danilo cultural and ideological world (BIAGI 1996).

 

The spread and distribution of the Early Neolithic in northern Italy

This subject is still largely debated since many changes have recently occurred in our knowledge of the detailed chronology of the events, which took place during the seventh millennium uncal. BP in the study region. Nevertheless, it is increasingly evident that the first traces of neolithization in northern Italy are those yielded by the western Ligurian cave sequences, where the Impressed Ware Culture made its appearance around the beginning of the seventh millennium uncal. BP. Although our knowledge of the Ligurian Early Neolithic is still very limited and the Impressed Ware assemblages of this region do not show the complexity and variability, which are typical of the neighbouring Provence, the general impression is that groups of farmers inhabited the Ligurian caves in a rather permanent way, although for brief periods, until the end of the millennium. Immediately later they gave shape to the first aspects of the Middle Neolithic Square-Mouthed Pottery Culture, around the beginning of the sixth millennium uncal. BP.

Quite a different picture is that of the north Adriatic coast, where the Danilo Culture, in its local Vlaska variant (BARFIELD 1972), spread from south Dalmatia up to the Trieste Karst just before the middle of the seventh millennium uncal. BP, as a new series of radiocarbon dates from Edera Cave indicates (BIAGI 2003a). It later moved further to the Friuli Plain, where a few open-air sites, such as that of Sammardenchia di Pozzuolo, yielded typical Danilo Culture pottery as well as "cult" objects, among which are ceramic rhyta (BIAGI 2003b) and phalli (CERMESONI et al. 1999). Why, and exactly when, the Danilo Culture reached its maximum spread towards the northwest, is still to be defined in detail. Nevertheless several data would confirm that, around the middle of the same millennium, or slightly later, the Fiorano Culture, a typical aspect of the central-eastern Po Valley Early Neolithic, spread eastwards to the Friuli Plain.

In contrast, the central Po Plain seems to have been neolithized during the second half of the same millennium. More precisely, the radiocarbon dates currently available for the Fiorano Culture, whose distribution covers the eastern part of the plain, mainly fall between the middle and the end currently of the seventh millennium uncal. BP (fig. 1); while those of the Vh Culture, whose settlements are scattered in the western territories of the same plain, are all included between the last two centuries of the same millennium and the beginning of the sixth millennium uncal. BP (fig. 2) (BAGOLINI and BIAGI 1990; IMPROTA and PESSINA 1999). The general impression is that the spread of the neolithization process was not homogeneous all over the area discussed in this paper. An important role was undoubtedly played by the cultural aspects, which reached northeastern Italy from the Adriatic regions of Central Italy, where the Fiorano Culture possibly originated, as suggested by some affinities with the Ripoli Culture vessels, which are particularly clear in the occurrence of the same type of four-handled flasks (BARFIELD 1972: 193). In this respect, the role played by the Danilo Culture does not seem to have been very relevant. As mentioned above, its spread reached the northeastern comer of Italy, where typical Fiorano Culture carinated cups, have been found in close association with characteristic Danilo Culture pottery shapes and decorations. The Alps were the latest territory to be neolithized, as shown by the stratigraphies of the most important Adige Valley sites of the Trento basin. Here the Early Neolithic layers of Romagnano III and Gaban rock-shelters yielded radiocarbon dates, which range between the end of the seventh and the first three centuries of the sixth millennium uncal. BP (BAGOLINI and BIAGI 1990) (fig. 3).

The sixth millennium BP is characterized by the Square-Mounted Pottery Culture, whose origin is most probably to be sought in the final aspects of the Ligurian and Provence Impressed Wares. Opposite to what suggested by BERNABO BREA (1946), at present there is little or no evidence to support a Balkan origin of this Culture, although a few ornaments and "cult" items would indicate the existence of some relationships between the Balkans and northern Italy during the Middle Neolithic.

 

Relationships between the Balkan and north Italian ideological world during the Neolithic?

The research currently in progress in central Croatia, between the courses of the Sava and Drava Rivers, has demonstrated that the Starcevo Culture did not spread beyond the foothills of the eastern Dinaric Alps (MINICHREITER 1994-1995). According to these results it is possible to conclude that this culture did not take part in the process ofNeolithization of northeastern Italy, as previously suggested. In effect, the archaeological record does not show any real, direct contact between the Danubian world and northern Italy during the Neolithic. Quite a different picture is that of the Dalmatian, Danilo Culture, whose importance, has already been pointed out. Nevertheless it is interesting to observe that at least two Early Neolithic Gaban Group "cult" objects strongly resemble Danubian, more specifically Iron Gates, types (BAGOLINI 1978). It is well known that the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic layers of Gaban rock-shelter yielded a great number of "art" and "cult" images, among which is one female figurine carved from a fluvial pebble (fig. 4) and one human representation on a human femur (fig. 5) decorated with spirals, waves, triangles, squares, lines and other geometrical, scratched patterns, often grouped in vertical panels, which has been interpreted as a musical instrument (RIGHINI 1975),. It is surprising to notice that the faces of these two objects strongly recall images carved on the Lepenski Vir stone statues, especially in the rounded or oval shape of their mouths, ears and eyes. The layers from which the Lepenski Vir sculptures were recovered are radiocarbon-dated between 7040:i:l00 BP (Bln-653) and 6560:i:l00 BP (Bln-655) (SREJOVIC, 1972: 209), which indicates that they are between some one thousand and five hundred radiocarbon years older than the Gaban objects.

Moreover, it is important to point out the great differences, which exist between the "cult" images of the two main Balkan Early Neolithic cultural aspects discussed in this paper, more precisely Starcevo, Danilo and the north Italian ones. The Starcevo Culture types are represented by female and animal ceramic figurines, stone statues, four-legged altars, scratched animal representations, and plastic hands on the outer surface of globular pots, animal cult vessels and stamp seals (BRUKNER 1979; GARASANIN 1979); the Danilo ones are essentially four and twolegged rhyta (KOROSEC 1964: tables 8-11) and phalli (BATOVIC 1968), although rare female figurines are also present (KOROSEC 1964: table 4), while the north Italian specimens consist of ceramic female figurines, bone and stone female images and rare plastic and grooved human styli sed representations on the inner or outer surfaces of ceramic vessels. This list of the most typical "cult" items gives an immediate idea of the differences, which exist within the ideological worlds of these three cultural aspects. Furthermore we have to consider that no "cult" object has ever been found at any of the Impressed Ware sites of northern Italy, that is from the main culture involved in the neolithization of most of the coastal regions of the country.

In one of his recent papers, D. COPPOLA (1999-2000: figs. 18 and 19) has provided us with a critical list of the Neolithic anthropomorphic representations of southeastern Italy. They are either scratched on the outer surface of vessels, or consist of plastic human faces, which decorate flask necks, with close parallels with several Balkan specimens (see for instance GIMBUTAS 1982: fig. 119).

Although these images are unknown to the Neolithic cultures of northern Italy, schematic human representations occur on both Fiorano and Vh Culture vessels, in the form of grooved and plastic images. For instance, the Vh Culture site of Travo, which is located on the right terrace of a north Apennine valley, a plastic human figure, on the inner surface of an open bowl, is surrounded by oblique and vertical scratched patterns (fig. 6).

Apart trom these few cases, the commonest figurines of Vh and Fiorano Cultures are represented by standing, simple standing female venuses of cylindrical shape, one of which is double-headed (BAGOLINI AND BIAGI 1977).

The observations made on the Square-Mouthed Pottery Culture assemblages of the Arene Candide Cave by BERNABO BREA (1946), indicate that a major change took place, around the beginning of the new millennium, not only in the material culture assemblages, but also in the Middle Neolithic ideological world. This is reflected by the new cave function, now partly utili sed as a graveyard, and by the occurrence of many new items, which, have already been discussed in great detail by BERNABO BREA (1946: 284).

The commonest "cult" representations of this culture consist of female figurines and stamp seals. Although several stylistic variants of the first are known to date, two are particularly common: figurines with a strongly flattened crutch shaped body, generally seated, with which can probably be associated a type with a stylised cylindrical head; and figurines with arms folded on the chest and shoulder length hair" (BAGOLINI and BIAGI 1977: 55). A sample of phallus-shaped head trom the site of Quinzano Veronese (fig. 7, n. 1) (GAGGIA 1978), finds parallels with some Early Neolithic types of northern Greece (GIMBUTAS 1989: fig. 138); while a unique plastic image, which decorates the outer surface of a deep vessel, has been discovered at Montano Lucino, a Square-Mouthed Pottery settlement located on the top of Lake Como moraines, in western Lombardy. It consists of a triangular human face, with incised, spiral eyes and a triangular, pierced chin (BIAGI et al. 1986: 14) (fig. 7, n. 2). Its shape recalls the faces of the Vinca Culture figurines, although differences can be noticed especially in the shape of the eyes, the absence of the nose and the incisions, which mark the mouth of the typical Vinca specimens (TASIĆ 1973).

Apart from this, no other close parallel can be traced between the "cult" objects of north Italian Square-Mouthed Pottery and those of the Vinca Culture, which are mainly represented by altars and prosomorphic lids (STANKOVIĆ 1986).

 

Discussion

Although the idea of Balkan influences in northern Italy has been put forward several times (BAGOLINI and BIAGI 1977), mainly because of the occurrence of female figurines and stamp seals at many north Italian Neolithic sites, the evidence of direct contacts between the two territories is very weak. In effect it is restricted to a few pieces of 1) Carpathian obsidian recovered trom two northeastern Italian sites (RANDLE et al. 1993), 2) typical Dalmatian polished stone chisels from the Early Neolithic site of Sammardenchia di Pozzuolo (D'AMICO et al. 1992), and 3) a few, Spondylus ornaments trom Early and Middle Neolithic, Po Plain and the Adige Valley sites (ST ARNINI et al. 1999), although these latter do not necessarily represent any direct relationship between the Balkan Peninsula and Italy.

This picture contrasts with that currently available for southeast Italy, where the close relationships between Bosnia and the Apulian Tavoliere have been demonstrated thanks to the discovery of imported vessels at Obre (BENAC 1975) and Passo di Corvo (TINE 1983: tables 118-123). Nevertheless the scientific analysis of the Early Neolithic Impressed Wares has shown that ceramic vessels were never traded across the Adriatic, at least during the first half of the seventh millennium uncal. BP (SPATARO 2002).

Furthermore, the only Neolithic Balkan culture involved in the neolithization of northern Italy did not spread beyond the Friuli Plain. It is in this region that Danilo Culture elements are known in form of characteristic, pottery "cult" items, polished stones and obsidian artefacts of Carpathian origin. If we move west, to the central Po Valley and the Alpine arc, we can observe that during both the Early and the Middle Neolithic only the concept of Balkan female "cult" images influenced the local ideological world. The best indicators of such movement or transmission of ideas are represented by the late seventh millennium BP, Gaban rock-shelter, mobile art, and a few SquareMouthed Pottery female figurines that recall both Early Neolithic and Vinca Balkan prototypes.