Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Oct 2015

he Paglicci Grotto

—or "Young man, I don't care if are late for Kick the Skull practice! You
finish your porridge or I'll bludgeon you with this stone-ax! Just you try
me, kiddo!"

The Paglicci Grotto has made interesting news recently.* That cave is located about 140 km/90 miles north-east of Naples within the confines of the Gargano National Park. The Gargano is in the province of Foggia in the region of Puglia and is the “spur” of the boot of Italy, jutting out into the Adriatic. The spur used to be called Capitanata and in ancient times was Daunia. It is, by any standard, an area of great beauty and variety. The cave, itself, is near the town of Rignano Garganico (the smallest town on the Gargano promontory); the cave is certainly one of the most important prehistoric sites in Italy, containing tens of thousands of individual finds such as paleolithic tools, human and animal bones, hand prints, mural wall paintings (image, right
just like the more famous sites in France and Spain) and, now, a pestle (a grinding stone) with evidence of paleolithic oat harvesting dating to 30,600 BC. Chronologically, the cave manifests evidence of human activity during both the Aurignacian and the Gravettian cultures of the Upper Paleolithic (that is, 38 to 22 thousand years ago. Those names of cultures are type sites named for places in France where they were first discovered and studied). The Paglicci cave contains the earliest such remains discovered in Italy.

The Paglicci cave was discovered in the 1950s and has had the typical roller-coaster ride of public and scholarly attention, going from enthusiasm to neglect and every stop along the way. There is apparently always danger of the cave collapsing. Need money for that. The museum is not yet open. Need money for that. August 13 of 2016 has already been set aside as the First National Paglicci Grotto Day. Really need money for that!

The pestle-like grinding tool in Paglicci was discovered in 1989. Recent studies have found traces of oats on the tool. According to Marta Lippi, a botany professor at the University of Florence and lead author of the recent report, the tool dates back some 32,000 years and is the earliest evidence of food processing in Europe; that is, evidence of the refinement of grain to make such things as porridge. So, they are not just hunting and gathering. They are making real cave-man breakfasts!

*Original article entitled "Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P." in
the on-line version of PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,
Sept 29, 2015, vol. 112 no. 39. Reported here. Article abstract:
Residue analyses on a grinding tool recovered at Grotta Paglicci sublayer 23A [32,614 ± 429 calibrated (cal) B.P.], Southern Italy, have demonstrated that early modern humans collected and processed various plants. The recording of starch grains attributable to Avena (oat) caryopses expands our information about the food plants used for producing flour in Europe during the Paleolithic and about the origins of a food tradition persisting up to the present in the Mediterranean basin. The quantitative distribution of the starch grains on the surface of the grinding stone furnished information about the tool handling, confirming its use as a pestle-grinder, as suggested by the wear-trace analysis. The particular state of preservation of the starch grains suggests the use of a thermal treatment before grinding, possibly to accelerate drying of the plants, making the following process easier and faster. The study clearly indicates that the exploitation of plant resources was very important for hunter–gatherer populations, to the point that the Early Gravettian inhabitants of Paglicci were able to process food plants and already possessed a wealth of knowledge that was to become widespread after the dawn of agriculture.

The area of Rignano Garganico has taken to calling itself the "Prehistoric capital of Italy" —maybe with good reason. The Paglicci cave is the best-known and best documented site, but there are others such as the paleolithic Grotta Spagnoli, the neolithic village of Villanova (not the same as the Villanova type site near Bologna), the megalithic dolmen of Madre di Cristo, and notably, the string of caves in the Valley of Ividoro I, noted for their wall graffiti and designs in coal and red ocher. The best single local museum to see much of this material is the National Archaeological Museum of Manfredonia, the largest city on the Gargano.

[related items: Early Modern Humans in Southern Italy  and  Roccamonfina]

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