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Megalithism

MEGALITHISM OF THE SOUTH-EAST ITALY, IN THE BRONZE AGE

Apulia is the millennial bridge which always had to be crossed by peoples who were cultural witnesses of its important commercial and migratory traffic. During the Bronze Age had different funerary architectures with artificial small caves cut into the rock and important subterranean tombs some of which are still being discovered. These different customs reveal expansionistic and commercial movements, waves of merchant warriors, metal seekers all of whom, since the Eneolithic period, have continued to move through and stop along the wole peninsula.[nggallery id=10]Italian dolmenic architecture does not offer a clear picture of the populations which have represented it and it is still difficult accurately define its geographical diffusion within the peninsula and to precisly reconstruct its typological and cultural evolution. It is represented by diverse yet interlinked expressions, and by local cultures unevenly distributed across only five Italian regions: the Aosta Valley (to the north), Lazio and Sardinia (in the centre), Apulia (to the south east) and Sicily (to the south west).

There are a number of very different monuments in each of these regions (Fig. 1). Only Sardinia and Apulia have a large concentration of dolmens, the majority of which are without funerary equipment (Atzeni, 1981; Lilliu, 1967; Palumbo, 1956; Malagrinò, 1978). Very few tombs can be found on the sites of San Martin de Corlèans (Aosta), Pian Sultano at San Severa (Rome) and Monte Racello (Comiso) (Mezzena, 1981; Puglisi, 1954; Bernabò-Brea, 1958). The earliest chronological references are those of the Eneolithic period at Aosta and in Sardinia. In Lazio, Apulia, and Sicily, the references date back to the Apenninic and Castelluccio cultures (Bronze Age) (Biancofiore, 1979; Bernabò-Brea, 1958).

The existence of a dolmen type architecture in the south-east of Italy mainly in Apulia is already well known to archaeologists involved in the study of this phenomenon, but it is still little known in terms of its most recent evolutionary and chronological aspects and in the context of a Bronze Age idealogy and culture.

Many authors have regarded the dolmens as though they were peripheral brothers belonging to a large megalithic family which had extended across vast geographical areas.

These dolmens would have marked the route between the most important areas which have still not yet been accurately traced. At the very least, these dolmens would have represented a regional aspect which could be linked to the larger Western and Atlantic megalithism (Bernardini, 1977; Biancofiore, 1962; Joussaume, 1985; Mohen, 1985; Niel, 1972; Renfrew, 1976; Withouse, 1981).

How they came to be there has been discussed without definitively discovering the places of origin of these unknown “builder” peoples. However, their dolmens have not always been talked of as an interesting sepulchral expression of the Bronze Age, because up to around ten years ago their datings had been rather uncertain. Finally, today with the widening of research, and the perfecting of the typology of black buchero-like pottery we are beginning to reconsider the findings of old field work thereby gaining a better understanding of this megalithic aspect of the south-east region of Italy.

In the last ten years, funerary equipment which dates the dolmens back to the moment of transition between the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age are being highlighted. At the same time, typological developments in the funerary structures are being discovered and these help us to understand that the large long-barrows of Bari with their elliptic tumuli are really the earliest monuments in the centre of Apulia. Other signs of worship which are topographically connected with the dolmens are now being acknowledged (an altar, rocks with cupmarks, and anthropomorfic stones) and these are helping us to widen our former knowledge of megalithic Apulia between the Early and Late Bronze Age.

Geographical distribution throughout Apulia.
The dolmens of Apulia are tipologically and geographically divided into two large and distinct areas. Along the Adriatic coast (on average about 5 km from the sea) the largest of long-barrows in the region can be found. These are situated between Trani and Fasano. Nearer to the the Ionian caost lies the vast necropolis of dolmenic tumuli of Masseria del Porto, Gioia del Colle to the south east, and the two dolemens of Statte near Taranto (First List) (Fig. 2).

On the Salento peninsula the most southerly part of the region, in the povince of Lecce, more commonly known as Terra d´Otranto, there is a reasonable number of small dolmens between Melendugno and Racale (Second List) (Fig. 3). These are the most diverse of all the other Apulian and Italian dolmens but are extremly similar to those found in Malta. There are no dolmens to be found between Taranto and Lecce. Although on the Gargano at Vieste, province of Foggia, there was once dolmen of Molinella which has since disappeared.

It can said that Bisceglie, Gioia del Colle and Terra d´Otranto represent three megalithic cultural moments each quite distinct from the other which may have been introduced by different peoples.

Two topographical characteristics are shared by the Apulia dolmens. The first is that they are found along the coast, on average about 5/6 km from the sea. They are situated on the lower terracings which go down to the coast along an imaginary line running along a large stretch of the Adriatic side (from Vieste to Castro). In origin, perhaps the Ionian side was also much richer but today this is represented only by the dolmens at Racale and Statte.

The most inland are the dolmens of those found at Gioia del Colle and Maglie. The second topographical characteristic of the Apulian dolmens is the fact that the direction of the opening of the monuments is always towards the sea: those of Bisceglie and Fasano face east, those of Gioia del Colle face south and those on the Salento peninsula face in more directions, but always towards the sea. It is as if these monuments wish to recall the importance of the sea as a natural element of transition and life.

The long-barrows found in the area between Trani and Fasano.
Along the central Adriatic coast between Bisceglie, Corato, Giovinazzo and Fasano, it is possible to see six of the largest and most famous dolmens in Apulia which are of the long-barrows type (Figg. 5-6). Today barely their skeleton remains. The original elliptic tumulus which covered them no longer exists, the corridor is barely able to be reconstructed, and the equipment in the tombs have nearly all disappeared.

This geographical area is characterised by an homogeneus megalithic typology in which its dimensions, its location at 5 km from the sea and the opening of the dolmens towards the east, are constant factors. The part housing the tombs is made up of a lower chamber which extends fowards to form a sort of gallery. Generally speaking, the original dimensions were around 10 x 2,20 x 2 meters high and the tumulus must have been between 15 and 18 meteres. The original tumulus we can be found on the dolmens of Albarosa (Bisceglie) and San Silvestro (Giovinazzo). Inside the long-barrows at San Silvestro medioeval pottery has been discovered which perhaps belonged to desecrators from that time. This dolmen has retained six of its nine covering slab, which in itself is unusual if one consider that in the others only one upper slab belonging to the chamber has remained.

Archaeological finds have been made in nearly all the Bari dolmens examples but no one has ever found anything intact that would help to reconstruct these burial rituals. However, a few remains do indicate what the objects were that accompanied the 3depositions. In the dolmen La Chianca where most of the archaeological remains have been found the remains of an amber necklace, clay weights used in weaving, a small bronze disk, vases for ritual meals (perhaps one of the dead had been a woman) have been discovered (Biancofiore, 1979). No weapons have been found either here.

Human bones have been scattered along the whole of the gallery perhaps due to plundering. The discovery of an inhumed body, lying on its right side in the foetal position, in the chamber of La Chianca dolmen has led to the hypothesis that the gallery may have been used as a ossuary. The pottery from the Bari dolmens has been dated back to the Sub-Apenninic period by Biancofiore. However, there is plenty of evidence which helps us to consider the earliest datings which can be deduced by comparing the typology of these dolmens with the datings given to the necropoli at Masseria del Porto (Gioia del Colle).

The typology of the vases is characterised by Apenninic-like forms such as ladles with long handles, rounded twisted points and shaped like axes (Fig. 7, a, e). Two jugs found in the dolmens at La Chianca and Albarosa represent two different chronological moments set between the Apenninic and Sub-Apenninic periods, XVIII-XI centuries B.C. (Fig. 7, b, g).

The tumuli dolmenic at Gioia del Colle
The area of Masseria del Porto to the south-east of Gioia del Colle represent the only necropolis which is rich in chronological evidence (Donvito, 1971; Striccoli, 1989). Here thirty three tumuli which are more or less intact, have been found and inside there are three different types of chambers or cists which were used for burials between the end of the Eneolithic period and the second Iron Age.

During the IV and III centuries B.C. ritual ceremonies took place on the tumuli.

Only two elleptic tumulus tombs exist and these are also the earliest (Graves: nn. 1 of Masseria della Madonna and Masseria San Benedetto). The others are either circular tumuli with a long-barrow, (Fig. 8), or simple small dolmens or cists (these last were for the burial of individuals and date back to the Iron Age). The first two types contain evidence of Bronze Age equipment and show clear signs of having been re-used (after the removal of the previous bodies, between XI and VI centuries B.C.). The dimensions of the elliptic tumulus tomb are a little smaller than those of the dolmens found in the Adriatic area. Generally speaking the other tumuli were between 10 and 8 meters, with chambers 5 by 3 meters long and 1,5 meters wide. The cists are 2 x 1 meters. They always lie north-south with the opening to the south towards the Ionian sea.

The two dolmens of Statte, which today are out their tumulus and lie abandoned, display the same typology of the gallery tomb (Statte Wood) and the small dolmen (Statte Valley) which is present at Masseria del Porto. It has bee ascertained that the opening of one of these tombs faces west. What is also interesting is that it is situated along the edge of a large valley. The tombs af Masseria del Porto are also generally found in elevated positions on rocky spurs that overlook the valley.

The distribution of monuments across the Salento
Where Apulia becomes a peninsula surronded by the Ionian and Adriatic seas in the Salento region, there are thirteen small dolmens scattered across a vast geographical area enclosed by the municipalities of Melendugno to the north, Maglie at the centre, Otranto to the east, Cocumola and Racale to the south-west. The largest concentration is in the Adriatic area between Lecce and Castro. The area of Giurdignano holds the largest number of dolmens in the Salento with nerly eight examples, four of which can still be seen today (second list). In fact, at least thiry have been found over the last hundred years however around half of those have been wiped out (Palumbo, 1955; Malagrinò, 1978; Corsini, 1986). Megalithic Salento (or perhaps it could be more accurately described as mediolithic Salento) could be set into a framework of four cultural district: Melendugno, Maglie, Giurdignano and Racale.

These district are distinguished by their typology and characteristic distribution.
Today these dolmens are represented by a small room which is variable and irregular in shape, generally subcircular an subquadrangular, covered by a capstone resting on five or seven small pilars which are between 0,70m and 1,30m high. There is virtually no trace of the corridor or tumulus, the floor is made of natural rock and the opening is along the longest side and, in the majority of cases, facing the sea (however this is not visible), (Figg. 9-10-11). In terms of length and planimetry their dimensions vary. The dolmens of Scusi, Chianca, Chiancuse, Grassi, Stabile, Monteculumbu, Campina and Torre Ospina are among the largest of the dolmens (maximum 4m). When viewed as a whole the dolmens of Salento can be set in the context of a unitarian production but are not of an homogeneous typology.

A particular characteristic of the dolmens of the Melendugno area at Giurdignano, which also can be compared with the Maltese dolmens, is the presence of cupmarks or a hole on the capstone. On the dolmen Scusi there are cupmarks and a 20cm groove which seems to form an anthropomorphic face (Fig. 12). There is a cupmark about 15m. wide and 20 cm. deep on the Placa dolmen of Melendugno. The dolmens Stabile and Sferracavalli have a long groove which runs along the perimeter edge before reaching a large concave groove. The groove or cupmarks is not at the exact centre of the upper capstone, which is always slightly tilted to one side. This factor leads us to think that the table, the tomb and the altar used for offerings and rituals served a dual purpose.

Due to the lack of tumulus and soil beneath the chambers of these small dolmenic tables we do not know what their original form was not what they were used for. By comparing them with their Maltese twins we can deduce that they housed a funerary urn which has since disappeared (Evans, 1956). In the surrounding areas finds have been made above ground.

The most recent archaeological references come to us from the remains of these settlements. One is in Adigrat Street, in the centre of Maglie (discovered during the restoration of a house) and at two other sites in the countryside to the south of Maglie towards Scorrano (Drago, 1954/55; Corsini, 1986) One of these is situated 100m from the dolmen La Chianca. The archaeological finds of burnt bones, small grindstones, flint instruments and pottery belonging to the Proto-Apenninic cultures, have been made.

Other expressions of worship near the dolmens
Topographically close to the dolmens in the Salento and in the Bari region exist other archaeological expressions of a cultual type. Not far from the dolmens rise the menhirs in the form of square columns 3m high whose date remains a mystery because structurally they do not seem related to the dolmens (Ruta, 1986). Most of them have been moved to contemporary places of worship (Fig. 13). The same type of columns can also be found in Malta.

In a place called Strada Abazia in Bisceglie not far from the dolmens of La Chianca, Frisari and Albarosa, I togeter with other collaborators have discovered a megalithic altar attached planimetrically to two rocks covered with cupmarks and rivulets (Figg. 14-15). Near to the rocks is an anthropomorphic stone similar to another recently discovered at Giurdignano (Lecce), by professor Anati and me, which is one of the richest of the meagalithic sites (Fig.16-17). At Strada Abazia Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age pottery has been recovered.

The anthropomorphic stone of the Salento can be found at Vicinanze 2, a few hundred meters from the dolmens of Stabile and Grassi. This stone (statue-stelae) has been inserted into a small wall near to a country crossroads and is easily visible. In front of it to the left is a menhir. On the land behind lies subterranean tomb which can be dated back to between the VI-III centuries B.C.. We are still uncertain about the dates of the two anthropomorfhic stones of Vicinanze and Abazia and up till now they are the only ones to have been found near the dolmens (Leone, 1997).

Other Eneolithic statue-stelae have been found in the north of Apulia at Sterparo (Castelluccio dei Sauri-Bovino) and at Tor di Lupo (Mattinata) in the province of Foggia (fig. 18, e, f) (Nava, 1988; Tunzi-Sisto, 1989). These have been dated back to the second half of the III° mill. B.C. based on the daggers incisions. In the province of Foggia no outstanding megalithic signs remain today. However, recently, a faint presence of true subogival menhirs (at Accadia and S. Agata, near to Bovino) which, having survived the disappearance of the Molinella dolmen (Vieste), indicate traces of a local megalithism which has now virtually disappeared (Tunzi-Sisto, 1992).

I believe it is also important to consider another topographical coincidence which is that of the relative proximity of areas to anthropomorphic stelae to areas with dolmens and megalithis in Italy. Stelae, which are more or less contemporary with the dolmens, can be found in each of the five region. At Aosta there is an important sacred area dedicated to worship, with dolmenic graves connected with stelae alignments. There is one stelae located between Vado all´Arancio (Grosseto). Monteracello is near to the necropoli of Castelluccio di Noto, where two stones with stylised anthropomorphic figures originate and these served as doors to the tombs. Stelae and dolmens can be found oround Laconi, in Sardinia (fig. 18). In Malta there are also monuments which show stone evidence with anthropomorphic motifs, like stelae (Mezzena, 1981; Atzeni, 1979/80; Graziosi, 1973; Landau, 1977; Gimbutas, 1989).

Apulia is the millennial bridge which always had to be crossed by peoples who were cultural witnesses of its important commercial and migratory traffic. During the Bronze Age had different funerary architectures with artificial small caves cut into the rock and important subterranean tombs some of which are still being discovered. These different customs reveal expansionistic and commercial movements, waves of merchant warriors, metal seekers all of whom, since the Eneolithic period, have continued to move through and stop along the wole peninsula.

The places where dolmens are to be found, could today represent those faint evidence of important geographical junctions for commercial traffic between the III° and II° mill.

B.C.. Infact there are also places where the sea must have played a relevant role when we consider where these dolmens were situated; it is still not possible to say axactly in wath direction these movements went but certainly they did not move in one direction only. There are elements which support the hypotesis that there was a confluence of two or perhaps more megalithic routes. It is most probable that one of these originated in Malta.

It is likely that an important wave moved from the north west across central Italy. But other groups must have arrived via the Ionian and Adriatic seas. Both Dalmatia and the Maltese archipelago are easily accessible from Apulia. Furthermore, the Maltese dolmens would have been the earliest of those in Salento dating back to between 2400 and 1500 B.C. (Tarxien Cemetery period). In conclusion, more megalithic cultural routes have touched the south-east of Italy which, due to its geographical formation, would have bolcked them and allowed them to mature there for more than a thousand years.

First List
Dolmen MOLINELLA (Prov. Foggia: Vieste) = destroyed

“ SANTERAMO (Prov. Bari: Trani) = destroyed

“ FRISARI (Prov. Bari: Bisceglie)

“ ALBAROSA (Prov. Bari: Bisceglie)

“ LA CHIANCA (Prov. Bari: Bisceglie)

“ GIANO (Prov. Bari: Bisceglie) = destroyed

“ COLONNELLE – PALADINI (Prov. Bari: Corato)

“ SAN SILVESTRO (Prov. Bari: Giovinazzo)

Necropoli di MASSERIA DEL PORTO (Prov. Bari: Gioia del Colle

– Murgia S. Francesco Graves I/III e VI

– Murgia Giovinazzi Graves I/V

– Murgia S. Benedetto Graves I/VIII

– Masseria della Madonna Graves I/V

– Masseria S. Benedetto Graves I/II

Dolmen LEUCASPIDE – S.GIOVANNI (Prov. Taranto: Statte Bosco)

Dolmen ACCETTULLA (Prov. Taranto: Statte Valle)

Dolmen CISTERNINO – MONTALBANO (Prov. Brindisi: Fasano)

Second List (Province of Lecce)

Dolmen PLACA (District Melendugno)

“ GURGULANTE ( “ Melendugno)

“ COLARESTA ( “ Melendugno) = destroyed

“ POZZELLE ( “ Zollino)

“ MASS. BARROTTA ( “ Corigliano)

“ SPECCHIA ( “ Melpignano)

“ CHIANCA ( “ Maglie) = destroyed

“ CANALI ( “ Maglie) = destroyed

“ MUNTURRUNE ( “ Maglie)

“ GROTTA ( “ Maglie)

“ PINO ( “ Maglie)

“ CARAMAULI I ( “ Maglie)

“ CARAMAULI II ( “ Maglie)

“ STABILE – QUATTROMACINE ( “ Giurdignano)

“ SFERRACAVALLI ( “ Giurdignano) = destroyed

“ GRASSI ( “ Giurdignano)

“ CAUDA ( “ Giurdignano) = destroyed

“ CHIANCUSE ( “ Giurdignano) = destroyed

“ PESCHIO ( “ Giurdignano)

“ ORFINE ( “ Giurdignano)

“ GRAVASCE ( “ Giurdignano) = destroyed

“ ORE ( “ Giuggianello)

“ BELLISCHI ( “ Sanarica)

“ SCUSI ( “ Minervino)

“ COCUMOLA – MONTECULUMBU ( “ Cocumola) = destroyed

“ CAMPINE ( “ Vaste) = destroyed

“ SGARRA I ( “ di Castro) = destroyed

“ SGARRA II ( “ di Castro) = destroyed

“ TORRE OSPINA ( “ di Racale)

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Discussion

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