22 October 2005
Stone-age colony discovered at Lake Bracciano
In early August, underwater archaeologists excavating at Lake Bracciano, north of Rome (Italy), brought up a nine meter-long dugout canoe hewn from a massive oak trunk. Some 9,000 years old, buried under three meters of mud and eight meters of water, this was the fourth canoe excavated at a Neolithic colony discovered near the shores of Anguillara in 1989.
Unique in Neolithic archaeology, no other sites have been discovered in central Italy, and never at the bottom of a lake. It is located in La Marmotta Bay, at the foot of Anguillara's promontory. Discovered under unusual circumstances in 1989, when the Rome water authority (ACEA) began installing an aqueduct in Lake Bracciano to supplement the city's water supply. When it started using machinery to dig a trench along the lake bottom, an archaeologist was required by law to monitor proceedings. In April, he arrived at the site to find that the dredger was bringing up large pieces of wood and ordered the work to stop immediately.
Archaeologists were aware that prehistoric settlements existed at Lake Bracciano. On the opposite side, near Vicarello, archeologist Antonietta Fugazzola Delpino, director of the Pigorini National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography in Rome, had already discovered, in the mid-1970s, a bronze-age site from the second millennium BCE. To her excitement, along with the wood in the mud she found ceramic pottery with distinctive decorations made with cockleshells, known to archaeologists as Cardial pottery, dating from the early Neolithic period, thousands of years before the Bronze Age.
During the summer of 1989, Fugazzola and her team of divers began picking through the mud, revealing huge posts and roof timbers, a variety of utensils and ceramics. Some pottery was painted with red, black or white parallel lines, never before found in central Italy, but widely used in Greece during the early Neolithic period. The divers also found pots that were still full of plant remains, extraordinarily well preserved. Excavations have since taken place every summer. A large, rich village has been discovered, established by settlers coming to central Italy from Greece or the Near East. The settlement survived for some four centuries before it was abandoned, suddenly and mysteriously about 5,230 BCE. Supposition is that the inhabitants arrived by boat, paddling up the Arrone River (its source is at Lake Bracciano) from the Mediterranean, carrying their domesticated animals, seeds and plants. They found an ideal land rich for cultivation, forests and the clear freshwater of the lake.
The village covered more than two hectares. The 3,000 oak posts uncovered so far give an idea of the scale of the place. Rectangular dwellings were supported by the posts. Divers uncovered layers of collapsed roof timbers and walls when they reached the floors they found the remains of human life: ceramic pots containing five different kinds of wheat and barley. Some still contained the remains of stewed grain and bones from different animals. Found were a large variety of utensils: greenstone axes, wooden-handled sickles with blades of flint, and obsidian, used as knife blades and believed to have come from either the Aeolian Islands off Sicily or the island of Ponza off the coast of Lazio.
These artifacts reveal that La Marmotta wasn't an isolated outpost on the Neolithic frontier. Fugazzola believes that the people were in touch with other communities in the Mediterranean; La Marmotta may even have been a crossroads for trade. The tree rings in the house posts that the village lasted for more than 400 years have established it. By combining tree-ring chronology with carbon dates for each post, its history is fixed from around 5,690 to 5,230 BCE.
Judging by what was left behind, the village was abandoned suddenly. Whether by tidal wave, fire or whatever the reason, it transformed La Marmotta into a ghost town subsequently engulfed by Lake Bracciano and covered with preserving sediment. Since the sixth millennium BCE the water level in the Lake has risen more than eight meters. At the Pigorini Museum in Rome there is an exhibition of fascinating photographs and graphic descriptions of the underwater excavations at La Marmotta. Many of the artifacts brought to the surface are on permanent display, including the dugout canoe discovered in 1994, a votive statuette representing the earth mother, and a typical Neolithic house, with various cooking pots and utensils, is reproduced in full size.
Source: Wanted in Rome (19 October 2005)