All  

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ Mobile

Flint dagger found at the Bigarello Copper Age necropolis site in Lombardy, Italy	Source: YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter

Early Copper Age Tombs Unearthed From Italian City

Print

Archaeologists in Italy are celebrating the excavation of a Copper Age burial site near the city of Mantua. Not only are the finely crafted blades and items of jewelry found there revealing ancient ways, but the positions of the interred bodies are revealing facets of burial rituals in deep antiquity.

The large Copper Age necropolis has been discovered in the town of San Giorgio Bigarello, near the city of Mantua, on the banks of River Mincio, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. During the Neolithic period (6000-4,000 BC) and Chalcolithic period (4000-1700 BC) Mantua was part of the River Mincio basin.

Dating to around 5,000 years ago, the first tombs at the site were excavated between November 2023 and February 2024. Now, archaeologists have excavated a total of 22 tombs containing finely manufactured flint daggers, arrowheads and items of jewelry.

Excavating Pre-Etruscan Burials

This region is perhaps most famous for the discovery of the Neolithic burial containing the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro,” in which a boy and a girl’s body were found beside each other, apparently embracing. Now, the 22 Copper Age graves are detailing the legacy of a once resource rich area that was later occupied by the Etruscans, whose power peaked in the region in the 6th century BC.

The dig was led by Dr. Simone Sestito from Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Mantova (SAP). According to a report in Archaeoreporterthe 22 burials were found about half-a-meter below ground level and alongside the weapons, several necklace beads dating to the 4th millennium BC were also recovered.

 

Burial from the site near Mantua, Italy. (SAP)

Burial from the site near Mantua, Italy. (SAP)

Assessing Copper Age Burial Differences

The tops of most of the tombs had been disturbed by construction and agriculture. However, Dr. Simone Sestito said the bodies were found “in excellent preservation conditions,” which means a range of dating tests can now be performed on the ancient cadavers.

Besides dating the DNA, paleopathologists plan to conduct stable isotope analysis of teeth and bones to reveal dietary information, and to assess disease and traumas within the population. And further to studying the actual bodies, secrets are being derived from the way in which the bodies were interred. Sestito said some tombs “are not arranged” as they are in the nearby Copper Age necropolis of Remedello (Brescia).

Position of one of the burials, including a dagger placed near the body. (YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter)

Position of one of the burials, including a dagger placed near the body. (YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter)

A Much Simpler Burial Style

Most of the bodies recovered from the necropolis of Remedello had their lower limbs flexed, with the upper ones wrapped around the abdomen. Therefore, the archaeologists expected to find the same at this new necropolis site. But this was not the case at Bigarello, which comprises “simple individual inhumations”.

Most of the deceased were found on their left sides with their knees bent to touch the chests, and their heads were mostly oriented towards the northwest. The lead researcher reminds that all this data has been derived from preliminary observations, however, he thinks this unique burial style, married with the discovery of necklace beads, suggests this site is older than the necropolis of Remedello (Brescia).

Skeleton including deposit of arrowheads included in the burial. (YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter)

Skeleton including deposit of arrowheads included in the burial. (YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter)

The Foundation of Italy

Copper Age cultures in northern Italy populated landscapes which were later managed by the Etruscans, a powerful pre-Roman civilization who populated ancient Etruria, encompassing north Lazio, Tuscany and western Umbria in Italy. Around 800 BC, this culture built the city of Mantua over the Copper Age burial site, and it thrived until 264 BC when it was conquered by the Romans.

And at this time, while much of Etruscan culture was eradicated, more was carried forward in the emerging Roman culture. And while we so often associate emperorsgladiators, straight roads and underfloor heating with Romans, these were all Etruscan conceptions.

With 22 already unearthed, the question arises, how many more Copper Age graves are yet to be found beneath San Giorgio Bigarello?

Top image: Flint dagger found at the Bigarello Copper Age necropolis site in Lombardy, Italy Source: YouTube Screenshot/ArchaeoReporter

By Ashley Cowie

 
ashley cowie's picture

Ashley

Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

Next article