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Early FarmersThe View from Archaeology and Science$

Alasdair Whittle and Penny Bickle

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265758

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.001.0001

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Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)

Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)

A Vicious Circle? The Isotopic Evidence

Chapter:
(p.143) 8 Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)
Source:
Early Farmers
Author(s):

Mary Anne Tafuri

John Robb

Maria Giovanna Belcastro

Valentina Mariotti

Paola Iacumin

Antonietta Di Matteo

Tamsin O’Connell

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords

In the Apulian Tavoliere (Italy), a large plain south of the Gargano promontory, early and middle Neolithic villages (c.6000–5000 BC) are characterised by circular ditches, which enclose dwellings associated with early farming communities. Through the integration of isotopic data the authors explore the food practices and the social landscapes of these communities, finding that this interconnected cultural system shows a great level of complexity, especially in the economic strategies of the groups investigated. The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope study of human and animal samples reveals how some sites, which are only a short distance from one another, show different isotopic signatures within a largely homogenous environment (for example Passo di Corvo versus Masseria Candelaro and Grotta Scaloria). The authors speculate that such differences reflect multi-faceted herding/farming systems, which in the case of Passo di Corvo involved the use of animal manure.

Keywords:   Italy, Apulian Tavoliere, Early Neolithic, Middle Neolithic, stable isotopes, Passo di Corvo, herding, manure

Introduction

THE UNDERSTANDING OF NEOLITHISATION IN EUROPE entails models and perspectives that are far from finding a consensus. Most archaeologists, however, agree upon the idea that the very notion of the Neolithic has shifted from being a material culture-related concept to a way of life (cf. Halstead 2011). Despite the large-scale models proposed for exploring the introduction of farming to Europe, most of the time the Neolithic is approached at a small-scale level.

In the Mediterranean, the understanding of Neolithisation is no different, with an extremely fragmented picture, which often relies on a bottom-up approach. In Italy, the spread of farming is traditionally associated with key areas such as the south-east coast of the Peninsula, where a great number of studies have concentrated. In the Tavoliere plain of northern Apulia (Figure 8.1), between the late 1940s and 1950s, a series of aerial photographs revealed the traces of buried contexts, which later were revealed to be the archaeological evidence of an intense occupation of the area already at very early phases of the Neolithic (Bradford 1949, 1950, 1957). A large number of the so-called villaggi trincerati, medium- to largesized ditched villages were identified and later excavated (Tinè 1975, 1983; Cassano and Manfredini 1983, 2005; Tunzi Sisto et al. 2006). On the basis of plant and animal remains, they were traditionally associated with food-producing economies, characterised by intensive farming and increasingly specialised herding (Pessina and Tinè 2008). The strong reliance on agriculture of these first Neolithic inhabitants and the importance of early crops as well as livestock and other foodstuffs constructed the diet and social practices of these human populations. The existence (p.144) of different econiches in a rather small area, which includes the alluvial plain (the Tavoliere itself), the seacoast, and highlands such as the Gargano and the Preappennines, favours an approach based on isotopic studies. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis are among the best ways to identify and define the different isoscapes in Neolithic south-east Italy; they can also contribute to the reconstruction of economic models for early and middle Neolithic populations, by directly assessing food consumption.

Despite the large number of sites registered in the Tavoliere, only a few have been excavated systematically and can provide human and animal skeletal remains for an isotopic investigation. For this study we selected three sites, all dated to the last centuries of the sixth millennium cal BC (approximately 5500–5400 cal BC); two of them (Passo di Corvo and Masseria Candelaro) are ditched villages located in the proximity of the Candelaro river, while the third (Grotta Scaloria) is a cave used for ritual and funerary purposes placed at the northernmost limit of the Tavoliere, at the foot of the Gargano mountains. For comparative analysis, our dataset includes isotopic values from early to middle Neolithic sites in the regions surrounding the Tavoliere (Figure 8.1).

Site descriptions

The site of Passo di Corvo lies on a terrace of the Amendola plain, about 10 km north-east of the city of Foggia and 25 km south-west of Manfredonia. The area of the village is about 40 ha, inside of which a number of C-shaped ditches were excavated between 1966–1982 (Tinè 1983). An outer ditch encloses an area of at least 90–130 ha (Figure 8.2). Two areas contained the human remains of at least 12 individuals, with one further individual (a female; t.11) found inside one of the ditches. The site should be considered as exceptional within the Neolithic evidence of the Tavoliere. The overall size of the area, and the over 80 C-compounds are unique. According to Tinè (1983, 183–9), at its peak of occupancy the site would have housed 30–35 families, structurally organised so as to allow the planning and construction of the massive ditch that limits the occupied area. This interpretation is today debated and the very function of the C-compounds is questioned (Monaco, pers. comm.). In any case we are probably looking at several groups of sedentary families, thriving on an agricultural economy with the contribution of the herding of domestic species such as cattle, ovicaprids and pigs. The very role of the ditches was believed by the excavators (Tinè 1983) to be functional to the maintenance of the village, either for draining water or for acquiring soil for farming purposes; again, later approaches have questioned this interpretation and the function of these structures was seen in a socio-cultural perspective, where ditches might have favoured groups’ self-identity and other forms of social cohesion (Cassano and Manfredini 1983). A ritual function has also been put forward (p.145)

Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)A Vicious Circle? The Isotopic Evidence

Figure 8.1 Map of the Apulian Tavoliere with sites investigated (circles = sites fully investigated; squares = comparative sites).

(Antoniazzi et al. 1990); most perspectives are plausible and, often, compatible (for a review see Skeates 2000).

Located about 14 km south-west of Manfredonia, Masseria Candelaro is placed on a small elevation (Coppa in Apulian) on the terrace of the river Candelaro, today about 1.5 km away. The site was excavated between the 1970s–1990s (Cassano and Manfredini 1983, 2005). Various ditches were brought to light, the largest measuring about 300 m in diameter. The earliest evidences are dated to the Early Neolithic. The site revealed several dwelling units, but the excavators suggest that during the middle Neolithic parts of the ditches were used for funerary purposes. Several burials, together with a cache with eight skulls, were excavated at the site (Salvadei and Santandrea 2003).

The Scaloria Cave is well known within Italian prehistory as a Neolithic ritual site. It is located about 2 km inland, close to the modern town of Manfredonia, at the foot of the Gargano mountains. The site was excavated in 1978–1979 (Tinè and Isetti 1980a, 1980b; Gimbutas 1981), but results were never fully published. While (p.146)

Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)A Vicious Circle? The Isotopic Evidence

Figure 8.2 The plan of the ditched village of Passo di Corvo; the inner ditch (with C-compounds) and the outer ditch are visible (after Tinè 1983, modified).

the lower part of the cave (Scaloria bassa) was associated with a ritual function, excavations of the upper part of the cave (Scaloria alta) yielded an assemblage of commingled, highly fragmented, human remains. Since 2007, the Scaloria archives and collections are being re-analysed. The human skeletal assemblage counts at least 31 individuals (Knüsel et al. in press), with a systematic isotopic study carried out (Tafuri et al. in press).

Stable carbon and nitrogen analysis

Isotope content in bone collagen can help to determine the relative protein contribution to human and animal diet over a period of about ten years preceding death (Ambrose and Norr 1993, Hedges et al. 2007). Carbon isotope ratio (δ‎13C) is able to distinguish between marine (δ‎13C enriched) and terrestrial (δ‎13C depleted) diet. It can also reveal the type of plant consumed, with particular reference to the kind of photosynthetic pathway followed (C4 plants are normally 13C enriched while C3 species are 13C depleted). In Europe, where C4 plants are infrequent, carbon isotopic ratios are also used to assess the intake of marine foods, since marine environments are enriched in δ‎13C relative to temperate terrestrial ecosystems. Nitrogen isotopic values reflect the trophic level of an organism, considering that (p.147) there is an approximate 3–5‰ increase in δ‎15N along the food chain (Minagawa and Wada 1984, Hedges and Reynard 2007). An individual’s nitrogen isotopic value indicates its position in the terrestrial food chain (herbivore, omnivore, carnivore), which for humans can be used as an indication of the relative importance of plant or animal protein in the diet (O’Connell and Hedges 1999). The type of animal protein consumed cannot be distinguished, that is, the difference between meat and secondary products, nor its quality (Privat et al. 2005, Katzenberg and Krouse 1989). Nitrogen isotopic values can also distinguish marine/freshwater versus terrestrial food intake, since aquatic species have much higher nitrogen isotopic values (Schoeninger et al. 1983).

For this study, we collected 82 samples of human bone and 27 of terrestrial animal bone for analysis (Table 8.1). Collagen extraction followed a modified Longin (1971) method (Brown et al. 1988). In brief, cortical bone (0.5 g) was cleaned by sand abrasion and demineralised in 0.5M aq. HCl at 4°C for several days. The samples were then rinsed to neutral pH and gelatinised in pH3 HCl at 70°C for 48 hours. The collagen solution was filtered off with 5–8 μ‎m Ezee filters, frozen and then freeze-dried. Each of the collagen extracts was weighed (c. 1 mg) in triplicate into tin capsules, and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios were measured using an automated elemental analyser coupled in continuous-flow mode to an isotope-ratio-monitoring mass-spectrometer (Costech elemental analyser coupled to a Thermo Finnigan MAT253 mass spectrometer). Analysis was carried out at the Godwin Labatory, University of Cambridge. Based on replicate analyses of international and laboratory standards, measurement errors are less than ±0.2% for δ‎13C and δ‎15N. The collagen yield, the percentage of carbon and nitrogen, and the atomic C:N ratio of each sample were also recorded to check collagen quality (DeNiro 1985, Ambrose 1990, van Klinken 1999).

Results

Results of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes ratio are reported in Table 8.1. At Masseria Candelaro mean carbon values are −19.2‰ for the humans and −21.1% for the animals, while mean nitrogen ratios are 9.3% and 6.3% for humans and animals respectively. At Passo di Corvo, mean carbon values are −19.3% for humans and −19.7% for fauna samples; mean nitrogen values are unexpectedly high with 13.3% and 10.2% for the humans and animals respectively. Grotta Scaloria mean ratios appear to be in line with those of Masseria Candelaro; carbon values are −19.3% and −19.9%, while mean nitrogen ratios are 8.4% and 6.0% for human and faunal specimens respectively. At all sites, there is a > 2% nitrogen enrichment between animals and humans (mostly herbivores).

The δ‎13C values suggest a predominantly terrestrial diet, based on the consumption of C3 plants (Figure 8.3); faunal specimens show greater variability, (p.148)

Table 8.1 Stable carbon (δ‎13C) and nitrogen (δ‎15N) isotope data of human and animal bone collagen. C:N ratio is reported as a collagen quality indicator.

Sample

Species

δ‎13C(PDB)

δ‎15NAIR

C:N

Passo di Corvo

PC T3

human

−19.2

13.0

3.2

PC T8

human

−19.1

12.9

3.2

PC T4

human

−19.2

12.9

3.2

PC T5B

human

−19.2

12.6

3.2

PC T7

human

−19.0

13.9

3.2

PC T9

human

−19.1

14.6

3.2

PC T6

human

−19.0

13.5

3.2

PC T11

human

−19.3

12.5

3.2

PC T10

human

−19.0

15.4

3.2

PC T10

human

−19.3

14.1

3.2

PC T11

human

−19.1

11.9

3.2

PC T12

human

−19.2

13.2

3.2

PC T13

human

−19.1

13.8

3.3

PC no code

human

−20.9

11.2

4.7

PC Bos 1

cattle

−18.3

11.1

3.2

PC Bos 2

cattle

−20.0

9.3

3.2

PC Ovis 3

sheep/goat

−20.5

9.8

3.2

PC Ovis _4

sheep/goat

−20.3

9.3

3.3

PC Ovis 5

sheep/goat

−19.3

11.7

3.3

Grotta Scaloria

GS-2

human

−19.6

7.5

3.2

GS-3

human

−19.5

7.9

3.3

GS-4

human

−19.8

6.9

3.2

GS-5

human

−19.6

9

3.2

GS-6

human

−19.5

9.4

3.3

GS-7

human

−19.3

6.8

3.2

GS-8

human

−19.2

8.7

3.2

GS-9

human

−19.4

8.3

3.2

GS-11

human

−19.0

7.7

3.2

GS-12

human

−19.3

7.9

3.2

GS-13

human

−19.1

8.6

3.2

GS-14

human

−19.1

8.9

3.2

GS-16

human

−19.2

8.1

3.2

GS-17

human

−19.4

7.9

3.2

GS-18

human

−19.1

8.9

3.2

GS-19

human

−19.2

7.3

3.2

GS-20

human

−19.5

7.3

3.2

GS-21

human

−19.5

8.1

3.2

GS-22

human

−19.1

7.3

3.2

GS-23

human

−19.5

8.2

3.2

GS-24

human

−19.9

8.2

3.2

GS-25

human

−19.2

8.8

3.2

GS-26

human

−19.0

8.2

3.2

GS-27

human

−19.0

8.8

3.2

GS-28

human

−19.3

8.7

3.2

GS-29

human

−19.1

8.2

3.2

GS-30

human

−19.2

8.1

3.2

GS-31

human

−19.4

8.6

3.2

GS-32

human

−19.2

8.6

3.2

GS-33

human

−19.0

9.2

3.2

GS-34

human

−19.5

8.9

3.2

GS-35

human

−19.8

8.1

3.2

GS-37

human

−19.0

9

3.2

GS-38

human

−19.5

8

3.2

GS-39

human

−19.8

8.1

3.3

GS-40

human

−19.1

8.5

3.1

GS-41

human

−19.3

8.3

3.2

GS-A

human

−19.6

9.2

3.4

GS-B

human

−19.3

9.0

3.3

GS-C

human

−19.8

8.6

3.3

GS-D

human

−19.8

10.6

3.3

GS-E

human

−19.4

00bo

3.4

GS-F

human

−18.9

9.5

3.3

GS-188

human

−19.2

8.9

3.2

GS-42

sheep/goat

−17.7

7.2

3.2

GS-43

sheep/goat

−19.4

5.6

3.2

GS-44

sheep/goat

−19.7

5.4

3.2

GS-45

sheep/goat

−20.4

7.7

3.3

GS-46

sheep/goat

−20.4

5.1

3.2

GS-47

cattle

−20.8

6.3

3.2

GS-48

cattle

−20.0

6.4

3.2

GS-51

pig

−20.7

6.3

3.2

GS-52

red deer

−20.3

5

3.1

GS-54

sheep/goat

−18.7

6.5

3.2

GS-55

sheep/goat

−20.3

6.9

3.2

GS-56

cattle

−17.6

5.8

3.2

GS-57

sheep/goat

−17.7

6.2

3.2

GS-58

roe deer

−21.2

4.7

3.2

GS-59

red deer

−20.5

4.8

3.3

GS-60

red deer

−21.1

5.3

3.2

GS-61

sheep/goat

−20.4

6.4

3.2

GS-62

sheep/goat

−20.2

7.9

3.2

GS-63

sheep/goat

−20.7

6

3.2

GS-65

red deer

−21.1

4.1

3.3

Masseria Candelaro

MC 1

human

−19.4

9.0

3.3

MC 2

human

−19.4

10.3

3.3

MC 3

human

−19.4

9.4

3.3

MC 4

human

−18.9

9.3

3.0

MC 5

human

−19.3

10.1

3.4

MC 6

human

−19.2

9.2

3.5

MC 7

human

−19.2

9.2

3.4

MC 8

human

−19.1

0000

3.0

MC 9

human

−19.2

9.8

3.4

MC 10

human

−19.2

10.3

3.4

MC 11

human

−18.9

11.4

2.9

MC 12

human

−18.7

9.2

3.2

MC 13

human

−18.9

9.0

3.4

MC 14

human

−19.2

8.5

3.0

MC 15

human

−19.3

9.5

3.0

MC 16

human

−19.5

8.6

3.0

MC 17

human

−19.0

8.9

3.0

MC 18

human

−19.3

7.9

3.2

MC 19

human

−18.8

8.8

3.1

MC 20

human

−19.4

9.4

3.0

MC 21

human

−19.4

8.8

2.9

MC 22

human

−19.3

9.2

3.0

MC 23

human

−18.2

8.2

3.1

MC 24

human

−19.9

9.2

3.0

MCXVII

sheep/goat

−21.5

6.4

3.7

MCXVII

pig

−20.8

6.3

3.2

(p.149) (p.150)
Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)A Vicious Circle? The Isotopic Evidence

Figure 8.3 Stable carbon (δ‎13C) and nitrogen (δ‎15N) isotope data of humans and animals from Passo di Corvo (PC), Masseria Candelaro (MC) and Grotta Scaloria (GS).

(p.151) which is unsurprising, especially considering the presence of wild fauna in the dataset (namely, the deer, though the cattle and ovicaprids at Grotta Scaloria show the broadest range). At Masseria Candelaro and Grotta Scaloria δ‎15N is again indicative of a terrestrial diet, with the consumption of animal proteins by the humans. At Masseria Candelaro higher δ‎15N and δ‎13C in the humans as opposed to the fauna might indicate the contribution of marine resources to the diet, but faunal data come from only two specimens (an ovicaprid and a swine), which makes our interpretation only tentative.

Passo di Corvo shows δ‎15N (for both human and animal specimens) that is exceptionally high. Such nitrogen values are normally associated with a significant consumption of marine resources, but two aspects challenge this interpretation: (1) δ‎15N is high for the humans and the herbivores analysed (two cattle and three ovicaprids), which would imply that both humans and animals at the site consumed aquatic species; and (2) high nitrogen isotopic ratios do not correlate with δ‎13C-enriched values – a condition that normally occurs when marine resources are consumed – while, on the contrary, carbon data at Passo di Corvo are consistent with those at the other sites, showing the normal consumers-consumed offset (c. 1‰).

We can include in the dataset mean nitrogen isotopic values of human and animal samples from early to middle Neolithic ditched villages surrounding those of the Tavoliere, namely Ripa Tetta, in the northernmost portion of the plain; Tirlecchia and Trasano in the province of Matera; Malerba and S. Barbara in the area of Bari, and Poggio Imperiale north of the Gargano mountains (Figure 8.4). At all sites δ‎15N is consistent with data from Masseria Candelaro and Scaloria. High δ‎15N values –

Herding Practices in the Ditched Villages of the Neolithic Tavoliere (Apulia, South-east Italy)A Vicious Circle? The Isotopic Evidence

Figure 8.4 Mean stable nitrogen isotopic ratios (δ‎15N) with ranges for both human and animal specimens at Passo di Corvo (PC), Masseria Candelaro (MC) and Grotta Scaloria (GS), together with mean comparative values from Ripa Tetta (RT)*, Malerba/S. Barbara (Mal/SB)*, Tirlecchia (TIR)*, Trasano (TRA)* and Poggio Imperiale (PIM)*.* (Tafuri et al., unpublished data).

(p.152) analogous to the ones obtained at Passo di Corvo – were registered by Lelli et al. (2012) at Ripa Tetta, in contrast with the data we obtained at the same site, although on different individuals; they interpreted such high nitrogen isotopic values as indicative of elevated protein intake, mostly in consideration of the animal/human offset.

We cannot rule out contamination as the possible cause for high δ‎15N in the bone samples at Passo di Corvo; modern nitrates used for farming could have altered the nitrogen composition of the soils in the area (Heaton 1986), though both the areas of Passo di Corvo and Masseria Candelaro – only a few kilometres apart – have been affected by farming activities and would have similarly suffered from soil contamination. The proximity to the sea might also have caused high δ‎15N values in plant species, as observed elsewhere (Virginia and Delwiche 1982, Heaton 1987), but again it would be difficult to explain how this had an effect on Passo di Corvo samples but not on those from the other sites considered, all similarly located near the coast.

We tentatively interpret the data from Passo di Corvo as the result of a manuring effect occurring at the site. Animal manure has high δ‎15N because of the greater loss of the more volatile nitrogen isotope (14N), with relative enrichment of the heavier one (15N) in the residual ammonia which turns into 15N-enriched nitrates; such nitrates are then taken up by plants, triggering a high 15N cycle (Kreitler and Jones 1975, Kendall 1998), which alters the nitrogen content of the tissues of the plant consumers.

What might have favoured a nitrogen cycle at Passo di Corvo can be linked to the size and the plan of the site. Within the Tavoliere, among the over 500 ditched villages identified (Skeates 2000), Passo di Corvo is the only one that reaches such an extraordinary size; its outer ditch encircles an area of approximately 90–130 ha, while other sites rarely exceed 30–40 ha (Tinè 1983). What is of great interest, moreover, is the plan of the site with a smaller ditch to limit the typical area with the C-compounds, and a larger ditch, which encloses an extraordinarily large portion of land with no evidence of recognisable structures (Figure 8.2). It is unquestionable that such an area had a function connected to the sustenance of the population. Whatever the function of the Tavoliere ditches might have been, they limited a piece of land within a wider landscape; at other villages (Masseria Candelaro, but also Tirlecchia, Trasano, Malerba, Ripa Tetta and Poggio Imperiale), such limited spaces did not allow for the tending of domestic animals, so that daily/seasonal activities would have moved to areas outside the borders of the village. At Passo di Corvo this might not have been necessary, as the large encircled area could guarantee a considerable plot of land (Figure 8.2), and might have been devoted to both herding and farming activities. This is even more convincing if we consider that according to the excavators (Tinè 1983, 184) the creation of the ditches can be ascribed to a single moment (phase IVa1), so that the village reached its maximum extension at a very early stage of its life.

(p.153) Our isotope data seem to be consistent with Tinè’s idea that the community at Passo di Corvo was devoted to both farming and herding, with the C-compounds space, the larger encircled area and the zone immediately near the ditch occupied on a (seasonal) cycle for keeping animals and growing crops (Tinè 1983, 1985). This scenario would correspond to Bogaard’s (2012) reconstruction of Neolithic farming on long-established plots of land, which would inevitably require actions to enhance soil productivity, that is, manuring. The practice of manuring would have implied a long-term investment in a portion of territory that in most cases would have been claimed through visible structures (in this case, the outer ditch; Bogaard et al. 2013).

Our interpretation seems to agree also with a model recently proposed by Monaco (2011) on the carrying capacity of the Tavoliere, according to which the size of Passo di Corvo outer ditch could have supported a combined farming/herding exploitation system, which did not require the seasonal movement of animals. It is worth considering that, within the Tavoliere, Passo di Corvo lies south of the river Candelaro, which during the sixth millennium cal BC might have created a natural barrier to the highlands of the Gargano, that could instead be easily reached by the groups of Masseria Candelaro and, possibly, Grotta Scaloria (Caldara and Pennetta 2002, Monaco 2011, Fiorentino et al. 2013).

If we were to use a cautious estimate of two tons of dung produced by a cow per year (Geden et al. 1990), it would require 15 cows and about double this number of sheep/goat or swine to cover an area of about 100 ha on Wulff’s (1966, 270) calculation of approximately 1.5 tons per hectare per year required for manuring purposes. This calculation is pessimistic when compared to numbers proposed elsewhere (Tinè 1983, Rowly-Conwy 1981, Monaco 2011). In any case, the permanence of the animals on the site would have reduced the need to transport the dung, although they could have been used as draught animals occasionally.

As Bogaard suggests, ‘it appears plausible that a household keeping a few cattle for meat and perhaps milk, as well as a few sheep/goat and pigs, could, by strategic folding of animals on stubble and spreading manure as well as household refuse, manage to replenish nutrients in intensively cultivated plots’ (Bogaard 2004, 46). At Passo di Corvo, unlike at other sites, this practice might have been performed in an enclosed area, a place – spatially defined – where work, but also social relations, might have been concentrated. It is difficult, at this stage, to affirm whether the use of animal dung at the village was intentional rather than unintentional; other data (for example, from micromorphology, and isotopic analysis of plant remains) will help to refine our interpretation in the future, but it is suggestive of ‘locally adapted’ subsistence practices (sensu Skeates 2000, 177).

Whether this ‘vicious circle’ at Passo di Corvo was the result of an intentional action to improve soil productivity, or rather the outcome of a practice that did not entail a strategy, it is difficult to determine at this point. It is however extremely interesting that at a very same moment in the sixth millennium, such diverse (p.154) practices in what we have hitherto believed to be a homogeneous archaeological landscape (i.e., the ditched villages of the Tavoliere plain) were being followed. Despite the many new perspectives put forward, for many archaeologists the Neolithic has remained a ‘package’ that only rarely has shown its diversity. In southern Europe this is becoming less convincing, as we are confronted with new scenarios that differ from the traditional view of a monolithic process of Neolithisation. There is no ubiquitous spread of farming communities over increasingly larger territories in Italy, perhaps because of the composite nature of the landscape made of different and often very diverse ecological niches. In the south-eastern regions of the Peninsula, for a very long time, the spread of farming communities remains particularly marked within key areas (Radina 2002). This archaeological landscape demonstrates a great deal of complexity within the larger comprehensive model. To name but a few, along with a local raw material procurement activity, such as that attested at Masseria Candelaro and other coeval sites, stands the impressive system of corridors and chambers of the Defensola flint mine complex (Tarantini and Galiberti 2011). The ritual cave of Scaloria stands out for complexity and longevity, so does the site of Passo di Corvo, as the largest and more complex Neolithic village of south-eastern Italy. This dense network of sites, impressive cult caves, large flint mines falls within a radius of only about 50 km.

It is likely that this set of ‘exceptionality’ within a rather homogeneous landscape might mirror different forms of adaptations and specific socio-cultural organizations. Within this scenario we might explain the variety in the isotopic signatures at the sites investigated: coeval villages located only a few kilometres apart, found on a homogeneous model that would produce homogeneous archaeological landscapes (i.e., material culture, settlement patterns) but engaging in manifold economic practices within a shared background.

Acknowledgements

We thank Mike Hall and James Rolfe at the Godwin Lab, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge for help with isotopic analyses. We thank Catherine Kneale, Louise Butterworth, Alex Pryor, and Hazel Reade, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, for help in sample preparation and analysis. We are grateful to Fulvio Bartoli for the material from Ripa Tetta, Tirlecchia and Trasano. We thank Sandro Sublimi Saponetti for the material from Malerba and S. Barbara and Rocco Sanseverino for the material from Poggio Imperiale. Many thanks to Emanuele Cancellieri for help with the images. Special thanks to Andrea Monaco for comments and suggestions.

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Proceedings of the British Academy 198, 143–57. © The British Academy 2014.