Prehistoric Peoples of the Italian Peninsula

The earliest archaeological evidence of human beings inhabiting the Italian peninsula consists of partial human skeletons and old campfires containing the skeletal remains of animals. These remains date to the third interglacial period, or between 35,000 and 170,000 years ago. Later paleolothic (Old Stone Age) peoples lived in several areas, including the island of Livanzo off the western coast of Sicily, Tivoli, and Calabria. Beautiful cave paintings of animals and hunting scenes like those found in southern France have been found at the last two sites. These cave paintings date to about 9000 to 10,000 B. C. These societies were hunter -gatherers, knew how to use fire, and some probably lived in caves and sheltered places amongst the rocks. As there were never enough caves to accommodate the entire population of paleolithic humans, some obviously had to find other kinds of shelter. One can only surmise as to what kind of shelters these might have been, as few clues have survived. Tools used by these people included chipped or knapped flint and other stone knives, axes, and spear points. Obsidian was also available as a material for tool making due to the volcanic nature of Italy's geology.

Mesolithic and Neolithic (Middle and New Stone Age) times saw people migrating into Italy from the other side of the Alps. The main advance in civilization that occurred in Mesolithic times was the adoption of the bow and arrow. Also, toolmaking became more refined as the skills of the craftsmen developed.

By about 3500 B. C., Neolithic societies in Italy had learned the techniques of agriculture that had first been used in Anatolia, Turkey, and the Near East. This was a major advamce and made the beginning of ancient civilization possible. No longer constrained to wander about following the migrations of animals which they hunted for food, these people could settle down and form villages. They grew grain and raised livestock., and this era saw the beginning of specialization in occupations that heralded the advent of the artisan, craftsman, and farmer. Stone tools were now formed and finished by grinding. Bone tools also came into use. It is believed that Neolithic Italian peoples built seagoing vessels propelled by oars and sails to sail back and forth between Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and North Africa.

Some distinct Neolithic societies have been identified. People of the Ligurian region still lived in caves and primitive forms of shelter. Remains of villages consisting of round mud and wattle huts with tapering sides have been found in the Po Valley. A group known as the Palafitte society built their homes on wooden pilings along the shores of lakes. When the water level fluctuated, the pilings kept their homes above the level of the lake. Remains of their villages were discovered much later when these lakes were drained. Over the centuries, the water level had risen to cover the villages. This protected the archaeological remains until their discovery by modern man.

During the later neolithic period, the peoples of Italy learned the use of copper from traders that came by sea. From Cyprus and Crete. Though there were local Italian copper deposits, it appears that they were not worked during Neolithic times. Scholars often refer to this period as the Chalcolithic Period.

The Bronze Age in Italy began in about 1800 B. C. The use of stone tools almost completely disappeared in favor of the new bronze ones. This was a period of increased migration of peoples into the Po Valley and the Italian peninsula. In the Po Valley, the Terramaricoli joined the Palafitte people who were already there. The Terramaricoli lived in round or oblong wickerwork huts reinforced with posts. They cremated their dead and kept them in urns. Communities on the peninsula were founded by Indo - European speaking peoples who crossed the Adriatic and settled. They gradually moved westward and settled across the entire breadth of the peninsula. Not much is known about these people other than their language was similar to Greek and Celtic.

From about 2000 B. C. on, the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations in the Aegean carries on a regular commerce with the peoples of southern Italy and Sicily. Because of the influence of these older, more developed Bronze Age civilizations, Sicily and southern Italy advanced more rapidly than the rest of Italy. Mycenean pottery, bronze hatchets, leaf shaped daggers, and long, narrow bronze swords of Cretan style have been found in Sicilian tombs of the period.

Sinngien and Boak pp. 8 - 15
Grant Page 14


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