Saturday, 23 May 2015

Central Mediterranean on Gordon Square

The annual Central Mediterranean Prehistory Seminar seems to grow bigger and bigger and become better and better. I could not make it to Newcastle last May – and I wonder if I am on their e-mail list since I tend to be prompted by Cambridge – but this year’s offering was packed with interesting talks and nice posters. Since it took place in London, there were more presenters from other countries than usual. It was truly a mini international conference on Mediterranean archaeology.

It is clear from the programme that the pottery studies are important at the moment: the seminar started as it finished with pottery talks, with La Marca et al. starting with the Early Neolithic in middle Adriatic and Fasanella Masci finishing with Early Iron Age Sibaritide. However, the seminar is a showcase for new or ongoing ERC projects and new or newly finished PhD theses. This year’s big projects included the FRAGSUS on Malta and ProCon on textiles, the latter having also contributed to the costs.

Curtraro on rock-cut tombs

Naturally, one’s own interests affect the choice of the talks that are memorable. I am sure those working in northern Italy found the case of Lugo di Grezzana in Bersani and Pedrotti’s talk engaging, but I was more interested in their general introduction to the emergence and distribution of anthropomorphic decorations in the Neolithic. The way the tradition started from the south-east and then reached northern Italy and Sicily as well and how the different styles, named as plastic, abstract, sculpture appliqué and schematic, had their own core areas in different parts of Italy was fascinating. The contexts were varied, although most of them had some ritual, funerary or production function.

I have recently been interested in chamber tombs, excavating some in the noughties at Crustumerium, and thus Curtraro’s discussion of the emergence of rock-cut tombs during the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods was very interesting. He was presenting new results from excavations in Apulia and Sicily and these have provided new evidence for the local origins of this tomb type. Historically, archaeologists have emphasized Aegean connection, but as Ruth Whitehouse was delighted to remind us during the seminar, she had suggested this autochthonous development in an article already in 1972 – and now there is solid proof for the argument. The chambers may have their origin in the Middle Neolithic funerary pits that reused functional storage pits cut into bedrock. In any case, the chambers seem to begin as individual tombs and later develop into collective burials with some astonishing disarticulation of long bones in Agrigento. The new data also suggests that actually the Aegean chambers are younger than central Mediterranean ones.

Danckers on terramare

I am not sure what our Italian colleagues think about Danckers’s critique of the periodisation of the Middle Bronze Age Po area, but at least he will be very aware after the Facies e culture nell’età del bronzo italiana? will take place in early December in Rome. He has recently finished with his three volume PhD on terramare in the Po valley and discussed the traditional narrative of the rise and collapse of these high-density settlements. He points out how the Early Bronze Age terramare were smaller and located at lower levels in the wetter parts of the valley. The Middle Bronze Age terramare lied on higher ground in the drier areas and they had large earth features, such as ditches and embankments. He was suggesting that the apparent emptiness during some of the subphases is down to the visibility issues and the reliance of the pottery datings on very distinctive handle forms that are not necessarily always present in archaeological assemblages. I am waiting with interest to see how the discussions turn out, but as one who has suggested hypothesizing and faced with polite reminders of the importance of physical evidence, I am not necessarily holding my breath with the apparent success. Nevertheless, continuous critical thinking and open discussion are important parts of academic discourse, so it will always be worthwhile to raise polite criticisms.

Skeates and Silvestri

Skates and Silvestri presented interesting new excavation results from Grotta Regina Margherita in Collepardo. This cave is one of two or so Middle Bronze Age caves in central Italy where disarticulated human remains have been buried in the deeper parts of the cave. In Collepardo there are also animal bones, but only near the entrance where a series of hearths were, so these seem to relate to specific cult activities or rituals. The very fragmented rare objects included some faiance beads of local central Italian production, which was an additional interesting detail of the cave. Nevertheless, the project is ongoing, so we will probably hear more, much more at a later stage.

Perego presented the new marginality network

After Forenbaher’s interesting presentation of stone cairns from Croatia – not unlike the Bronze Age cairns in Finland – and Perego presenting her own work on marginality in northern Italy together with a new network of project studying such matters, it was time for some textile research. Gleba and Harris’s talk was an agglomeration of their respective talks in the Rome workshop, which I have discussed briefly in the past, so Brown’s perhaps more poetic talk on the clothing combinations in Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia deserves more than a mention here. He is currently using hierarchical clustering routine in order to explore clothing and adornments and their change in tomb paintings. Currently, he has broken into scenes and types only from 50 scenes in 15 Archaic tombs from Tarquinia. However, if he manages to add also the later, more fragmented wall paintings and analyse and evidence differences or similarities between slightly different paintings. As one member of audience suggested, correspondence analysis may work also here.

Brown and Etruscan clothing choices

I myself presented a poster on my ongoing modelling in southern and northern Etruria and other posters promised interesting work on Archaic stone quarrying and wall building and archaeology of Lampedusa in the future among other topics. Otherwise, it was marvellous to see different friends from London and have a lunch and drinks with them. Afterwards we headed to a pub and later in a smaller group to a fish and chips restaurant on Russell Square. I almost forgot to get back to St. Pancras in time, so it was a day and an evening to cherish.

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