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From the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Central Italy: Settlement, burial, and social change at the dawn of metal production

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrea Dolfini



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The late Neolithic and Copper Age were a time of change in most of Europe. Technological innovations including animal traction, the wheel, and plow agriculture transformed the prehistoric economy enabling new subsistence strategies and population growth. The discovery of copper metallurgy expanded the spectrum of socially significant materials and realigned exchange networks away from Neolithic 'greenstone', obsidian, and Spondylus shells. New funerary practices also emerged at this time, signifying the growing importance of lineage ancestors, as well as new ideas of personal identity. These phenomena have long attracted researchers’ attention in continental Europe and the British Isles, but comparatively little has been done in the Italian peninsula. Building on recent discoveries and interdisciplinary research, this review article offers a critical appraisal of current models interpreting the Neolithic-Bronze Age transition in light of the Italian regional evidence, focusing in particular on central Italy. The tight regional focus of the review enables multiscalar analysis of prehistoric social dynamics to be conducted at the interface between local and superregional trends. After introducing the prehistoric environment and landscape, the article discusses five broad themes: chronology and cultural sequence from 4500-2200 BC; settlement patterns and the subsistence economy; the exchange of socially valuable materials and artefacts; the emergence of copper, silver, and antimony metallurgy; and funerary practices and notions of the human body. The article offers a reinterpretation of the evidence away from well-rehearsed readings considering this period to be the cradle of Bronze Age social inequality and the prestige goods economy. It argues instead that, at this juncture, prehistoric society reconfigured burial practices into powerful new media for cultural communication, and employed new materials and objects as novel identity markers. Stratified political elites, it is argued, may not be among the new identities emerging at this time in the social landscape of prehistoric Italy.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dolfini A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Archaeological Research

Year: 2020

Volume: 28

Pages: 503-556

Print publication date: 01/12/2020

Online publication date: 20/12/2019

Acceptance date: 11/03/2019

Date deposited: 29/04/2019

ISSN (print): 1059-0161

ISSN (electronic): 1573-7756

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10814-019-09141-w


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