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2013-09-02 05:20:22   •   ID: 1104

Middle Pleistoceine Handaxes from the Venosa Valley

Figure 1
These are surface findings from the Venosa Basin (Basilicata, Southern Italy). Flat Bifaces been made  from siliceous limestone, which is available as raw- material throughout the valley. According to nearby stratified sites, the handaxe may be about 300-400 k.a. old.

The Venosa Basin is a late Pliocene depositional surface, eroded during the Lower Pleistocene by local streams into a long and narrow valley 100 m deep. Around 1900 about 700-800 handaxes were found at Venosa Teranerra.

The Venosa Basin is also famous for the remains of a prehistoric habitation found in the locality of Loreto. The site was systematically excavated from 1956 to 1961 by A. C. Blanc and G. Chiappella. The excavations produced Core and flake ensembles (“Tayacian”), as well as “Acheulian” ensembles with bifaces.

Further research has resulted in the discovery of a second important site that faces the first, on the Loreto- Notarchirico Hill.

The newly discovered site, which consists of several lacustrine and fluvio-lacustrine beds contained several archaeologically rich horizons, and has been under excavation between the 1980ies and 90ies.

Twelve archaeological levels were found in a stratigraphic sequence of 7 m, each separated from the other by 10 to 100 cm of sterile deposit.

Some are undisturbed dwelling surfaces, close to a body of water, while in others the archaeological remains have been reworked and transported by natural agents.

Thanks to the correlations with volcanic deposits in the area, it could be established that the sequence covers a relatively narrow time range (about 200 k.a.) starting from about 650 k.a. years ago – a period featuring the transition towards a colder climate.

Recently 40Ar/39Ar ages and ESR dates provided a revised chronology for the whole sequence, evidencing that the archaeological levels accumulated even during a shorter time frame between ca. 610 and 670 k.a. Five archaeosurfaces (A, A1, B, D and F) yielded LCTs, including bifaces, during Marcello Piperno’s excavations from 1980 to 1995 (Moncel et al. 2019)

The prairie-like environment, with sparse trees, was peopled by several wildlife species among which elephants prevailed, followed by cervids and bovids; in addition to the remains from these animals, some remains from rhinos, hares, turtles and birds were also found in the archaeological levels explored, with an abundance of smaller animals that would point to a colder climate than the current one.

In  the archaeological levels, lithic artifacts were found including choppers (cores?), chopping tools and simple flake tools (scrapers with irregular retouche, denticulates, notches), as well as – in some levels – bifaces, a situation comparable to the (younger) Loreto-site.

The assemblages with bifaces are made on limestone, flint and, more rarely, quartzite cobbles. The Alpha palaeosurface is especially interesting, being the most recent one in the series and exposed as for about 100 square meters.

A fragment of a human femur was found on this surface – it is the oldest human fossil remain found so far in southern Italy, with a dating of about 360 k.a. (by the Uranium-disequilibrium method), considered to be underestimated.

The B palaeosurface (of about 30 square meters) is also interesting, as it bears the remains of an elephant’s skull with the tusks still in place, together with several bifaces, choppers, and flint and limestone scrapers. It is interpreted as a butchering site.

The different composition of the artifact ensembles at Notarchirico displays the influence of specific tasks in strata, sampling bias from limited excavation surfaces, postdepisitional artifact-sorting, different rates of artifact export / import, rather than the influence of different lithic “traditions”. The absence of a Levallois technique indicates a relatively early age of the  Notarchirico ensembles.

Proveniance: Collection Baronetti / Milano (IT)