THE PALEOLITHIC LAYER
The Paleolithic layer of “Isernia La Pineta” was discovered during the excavation works in order to construct the highway Napoli-Vasto.
Since then, specialists of different Italian and foreign Universities, under the scientific coordination of Professor Carlo Peretto of the University of Ferrara, have carried out excavations, surveys, restorations and datings, allowing to acquire the first large fund of knowledge about the Paleolithic site of Isernia, which is one of the most prestigious documents about our ancestors life either for quantity and quality of testimonies and information.
Isernia, about 700,000 years ago. The basin, on which, at the present time, the Samnite town stands, in the heart of the Apennines mountainous formations, is seat of a little pond, fed by the Carpino river and large sources responsible for the origin of strong travertine formations. In the grassy savannas, along the banks, in an exotic background, besides the bisons, elephants and hippopotamuses also live the Paleolithic men of Isernia, hunters, pickers of spontaneous-growth vegetables, nomads or semi-nomads.
The Homo erectus is the first to reach Eurasia from Africa about one million and a half years ago, in possession of important mental faculties and a high social cooperation level in the group. These men don’t have yet the habit to bury dead people, don’t know agriculture or breeding and are organized in little familiar bands, probably formed by not more than 15-20 people. It is, likely, a patriarchal society, with a precise partition of duties depending on their sex: women are responsible for the collection of vegetables and men for hunting. The favourite preys are the bisons but men of Isernia don’t despise other faunas like the elephants, rhinoceroses, bears, megaloceros, hippopotamuses and wild boars. Today, in the layer, we find all the weighty bones accumulations of these animals. After being picked the meat from, the bisons’ bones are intentionally fractured to extract the nutritious medulla.
The lake and river shores are rich of little flint slabs, coming from the destruction of the “multicoloured jaspers” formation, between Pesche and Carpinone, which are splintered for the instruments manufacture. The sharp splinters produced with little flint slabs, some tens of centimetres long, are sufficient to slaughter a whole bison.
We cannot establish on a certainty how long these hunters have stopped in “La Pineta”, how many they were and what kind of activity they had practiced.
Lithic handiworks and hunted prays spread on extended surfaces of tens of thousands of square metres. It is highly improbable that they were very numerous, as well as the fact that they have been stopping for prolonged periods or even permanently in the same site.
Today, the most reasonable explanation is that they have returned cyclically, on different occasions, in the same area which, because of the raw materials and water supplying and, maybe, particular aspects of venatorial strategies, should have presented particular advantages.
We certainly find the clear proof that they have returned to the same site on different circumstances in the vertical distribution of the testimonies: the Paleolithic peopling phases of the area are documented by a stratigraphic succession of, at least, four anthropical horizons. The first time, Paleoliths settle on the large travertine board, leaving several handiworks obtained from flint-stone, limestone and osteological preys remains.
A river overflowing recovers these first testimonies with a thick, lacustral blanket of silt. Above the silt, the prehistoric people return to settle, leaving other traces of their passage.
This time the land is recovered by a volcanic mudslide, sealing the precious finds and preserve them from the destruction. The sanidine and biotite crystals present in these volcanic sediments can be dated to 736,000 +/- 40,000 years ago according to the Potassio/Argon method. The prehistoric people return for the third time in the area, settling above the volcanic sediments, leaving numerous lithic handiworks, obtained from flint-stone, limestone and little osteological remains. Once again the testimonies are sealed because of a new, fluvial sediments accumulation.
The fourth phase of the zone peopling is documented in the Southerner area of the layer and is characterised of a very strong concentration of handiworks, obtained exclusively from flint-stone and poor osteological remains of little dimensions. This last group of testimonies is particularly interesting, either for the probable presence of fire-utilization traces (until now, the eldest one documented in the world) and for the exceptional reliability of the finds attitude conditions, which don’t show any phenomenon of “post-depositional” trouble: they have a very fresh aspect, strongly concentrating in a defined area and often reassembling each other.
Establishing precisely the interval passing among the four different phases of the Paleolithic peopling of the zone is not easy: the sediments characteristics interposing there, which can be accumulated also in very fast times, the constant presence of the same kinds of faunas and the strong analogies characterising the four groups of lithic handiworks, let us think that these times were particularly short (which could mean from some months to some centuries).
Source: L’ITINERANTE Isernia Camper Club Magazine N. 9