Capo Alfiere: A Neolithic site near Crotone, Calabria, Italy  
by Jon Morter 


Contents:

Background
Architecture
Other Artifacts
Absolute Dating
Related Publications

Background
Capo Alfiere is the name of a Neolithic site located on a small headland on the eastern coast of Calabria. Archaeological excavations at the site were conducted by a team from the University of Texas in the summers of 1987 and 1990. The digging was directed by Jon Morter. The work is part of a broad study of the landscape of the territory of the Classical Greek colonial city of Kroton (modern Crotone) under the supervision of Prof. Joe Carter.[1]

The excavations have revealed the surviving portions of a stratified deposit dating to the Middle Neolithic period. Two main strata have been defined to date, each with sub-phases. The majority of the pottery appears to be of the Stentinello tradition, a type first defined in eastern Sicily by Paolo Orsi at the end of the last century. Other finds include both ground and chipped stone objects. A large floral and faunal assemblage is currently under analysis at the Laboratorio per Bioarcheologia in Rome under the supervision of Dott. Lorenzo Costantini.

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Architecture
The site's architectural remains are particularly interesting. These are best preserved in the upper stratum (II). Two stretches of an extremely large stone wall were discovered. These form an angle and appear to enclose the cobble floor of a house. We estimate that about 50% of the latter has survived. A reflooring of this structure had sealed a large quern and the stone-lined hearth of the hut, both features being built into the original cobble floor. The floor appears to have been about 4.8m on its surviving complete side and probably at least that long in the incomplete dimension. The corners of the paving are curved. The hearth was probably originally central to the structure and the large emplaced quern was beside it. A small portion of a similar pavement (from a structure now largely destroyed by recent agriculture) was found in the earlier stratum (I).

The massive walls are of a peculiar construction. A central core of large blocks was faced on one or both sides by large slabs set vertically. Unfortunately, due to plough damage, the large walls had not survived above the first course or two. Thus it is impossible to say with certainty how high they originally stood. As they are a metre or more thick, it seems logical that they originally stood quite high. There was considerable rock and daub tumble above the hut paving in the area delimited by the walls.

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Other Artifacts
Studies of the ceramics, lithics, floral and faunal collections from the site are still in progress, but some preliminary observations can be made.

Stentinello ceramics are distinguished by their use of elaborate impressed and incised decorative design work. This seems to represent a divergence from the painted finewares produced elsewhere in the lower Italian peninsula at this time. At Capo Alfiere, there are definite differences between the Stentinello style ceramics from the upper and lower strata. The earlier material is more consistently black in colour and the finer decoration makes use of coloured pastes (ochres and calcium carbonate) in a variety of colours (yellow through red and also white) to enhance the decoration. The use of ochres seems to have fallen out of favour by the period of the upper stratum but the actual impressed designs are, if anything, more elaborate. The site has produced very little painted pottery; what there is seems to be on a distinct and possibly imported, fabric (Morter and Iceland 1995).

Although the chipped stone artifacts from this site are not in of themselves particularly exciting technologically, being a fairly straightforward microblade industry, an examination of the raw materials used is very interesting. There appears to have been a shift in raw material usage or availability over time. The lithics from the lower stratum (I) contained 28% obsidian (by count), while the upper stratum had almost 67% obsidian. The balance of the lithic material was cherts and quartzites available fairly locally.

This apparent increase in obsidian availability, only obtainable from Lipari by long distance exchange, may be signaling an increase in material traffic by the upper level. This may also be reflected in the discovery of a cache of large ground stone axes in that level--also probably derived from some distance from the site.

Analysis of the floral and faunal remains from the 1990 excavations and hence the lower stratum is not quite complete. The recovery of floral remains from the upper stratum (II) has been good with a variety of wheats and barley represented plus a good selection of legumes and weeds (information provided by Dott. L. Costantini listed in Morter 1990). Although the proportion of identifiable animal bones is small, the collection has demonstrated a good selection of domesticate and some vermin (Scali 1990). Domesticated animals predominate over game as is typical for this period.

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Absolute Dating
We were fortunate in obtaining a series of radiocarbon dates from the site which give a general and broadly consistent picture of its overall date.

Three dates from the upper stratum (5650+/-70 bp, 5450+/-60 bp, 5410+/-80 bp) date the hearth and the surface sealing it to the second half of the 5th millennium BC, after calibration. There was no suitable carbon from stratum I so resort had to be made to dating with animal bone. This gave a date of 5950+/-100 bp, indicating a calibrated range towards the beginning of the 5th millennium BC.

These dates are interesting as they put the upper stratum rather late in the accepted range for Stentinello sites. The lack of ceramics attributable to the supposedly successive Serra d'Alto phase, and discovery of some closer to the purportedly Late Neolithic, Diana types, has led us to question the general applicability of the accepted southern Italian ceramic sequence hereabouts.

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