Prehistory and protohistory in the Terra di Bari

This conventionally defines the vast time span of human history that extends back as far as 1.5 million years, from the first use of stone tools to the mastery of metals (Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic or Copper Age). It can be reconstructed without the help of written records using paleontological, anthropological and archaeological data. With the Bronze Age and Iron Age, we pass from Protohistory, in the course of the 2nd millennium and part of the 1st millennium BC, to the threshold of History.

Divided into different geographic areas with environmental peculiarities and natural resources (Gargano and Tavoliere, Ofanto area, Murge and Adriatic coast, Salento, Ionian plain and coast), stretching out between the Ionian and the Adriatic seas into the Mediterranean, Apulia has served as a favourable transit point for people, cultures and ideas between East and West. The artifacts on display are the results of archaeological investigations in the Terra di Bari begun in the early 1900s and they document the fundamental stages of this long route through time.

Livinig at the Pulo di Molfetta

The earliest village communities (6200-5400 BC)

The landscape of the Pulo di Molfetta, a wide and deep karst doline, some kilometers away from the Adriatic coast, must have provided the ideal rooting environment for the Neolithic. The fertile soils surrounding its slopes and the body of water at the bottom were used for agricultural practices while the numerous caves dotting its walls provided shelter and served as locations for ceremonies and rituals. It was on the near- by terraces (Spadavecchia and Azzollini estates) that a large village, enclosed by stone walls and with spaces reserved for burials, developed intermittently over two thousand years from around 6000 to 4000 BC.

Balsignano, a village on the “lama”

5500 B.C.

Excavations carried out between 1993 and 2002 in the Neolithic settlement of Balsignano, just outside the town of Modugno on the shores of Lama Lamasinata, have revealed that one of the three huts investigated, hut n. 2, was quadrangular in shape and had a floor paved with stone and wooden walls plastered with clay.

This hut serves as an important document to understand the ways of living, the economy and the social organization of the first communities of farmers and animal breeders that settled permanently in the territory. Clay pots and working tools are evidence of the full affirmation around 5500 BC of the Neolithic subsistence economy based on agriculture, animal husbandry, domestic crafts and exchange of raw materials and finished products, such as the Gargano flint, the obsidian from Lipari.

Scamuso, a village on the Adriatic coastal plain

Neolithic villages and societies between coastal and inland areas (6000-4000 BC)

The settlement of Scamuso, on the border between Bari and Mola di Bari, is one of the most important in the south eastern area of Bari due to the evidence it provides and to its long lifespan. It occupied a strategic position: compared to more inland settlements, it could take advantage of its coastal position, which favoured exchange activities and contacts with small vessels along the coast.

Systematic excavations carried out between 1983 and 1986 have revealed traces of an earlier settlement dated to the 7th millennium BC, while the latest traces date to approximately 4000 BC. Some valuable examples of painted pottery dated to the 5th millennium have been selected for the exhibition as expression of a very high level of craftsmanship, evidence of the economic capacity and social level achieved.

Burial practices and Neolithic rites, caves and sacred spaces

Evidence from burial customs and funerary rites provide us with glimpses into the religious world of the Neolithic communities al- lowing us to touch upon issues pertaining to ideology. Ongoing research has confirmed the strong tradition of rituals in Neolithic contexts, which is revealed by, and often associated with, funerary practices like the use of caves.

Theses played an important role in maintaining the social identity of Neolithic com- munities during the 5th millennium BC. Rituals involved depositions of offerings, first in natural caves, then in rock-cut hypogea (Grotte della Tartaruga, Grotta di Cala Scizzo and Grotta di Cala Colombo, hypogea of Santa Barbara), inspired by a propitiatory religiosity and by symbols of the Neolithic world (the agricultural cycle, the binomial fecundity-fertility, the malefemale elements), and included depositions of hu- man remains.

As well as refined painted pottery and the notable Serra d’Alto ware with its highly symbolic spiral-meander decoration, exceptional clay figurine female heads were deposited in the caves. Representation of entities (Mother Goddess?) whose function was to increase the fertility of fields, these figurines point out the central role played by women and provide some insights into gen- der ideology in the Neolithic.

The Copper Age in the Terra di Bari

The exposition displays a selection of living, ritual and burial contexts from the Terra di Bari dated to different phases of the Copper Age. They document the development and the heterogeneous aspects of this long phase of Prehistory, highly innovative due to the acquisition of greater knowledge and the emergence of new technologies following the introduction and circulation of copper in southern Italy, in the form of raw metal and as finished items.

Environment and economy

Significant climate change had already contributed to undermining the Neolithic settlement system and economy bringing about social, economic and ideological changes. Between 4000 and 3000 BC the spatial and cultural organization changed slowly and gradually. After a first phase of continuity with the Neolithic (Madonna delle Grazie), centuries-old Neolithic sites were abandoned and short-lived settlements developed while frequent relocations occurred (Parco S. Nicola). Animal husbandry, as well as sheep transhumance, became part of the subsistence economy and involved the search for more suitable places in the inner areas of the region, following the lame and ravines up to the Murge highlands (Parco San Nicola, Gioia del Colle, Andria). Small settlements were established on naturally protected sites strategic for trade activities, and developed along natural routes of communication as a result of the circulation of metal, coveted by the Eneolithic societies for the production of weapons and ornaments, mostly documented in the later stages of the period.

Funerary rituals

The three pottery groups from Monte Sannace, Gioia del Colle and Andria are part of the historic collection of the Museum. Assigned to the facies of Laterza, which takes its name from the eponymous necropolis and developed in the late phases of the Copper Age, they formed, together with other objects also made of copper and no longer preserved, the rich burial assemblages of individuals inhumed in rock-cut tombs, underground “grotticella” tombs. These communities, very mobile in the territory and mostly dedicated to pastoral activities, attributed a strong ideological meaning to funerary rituals, leaving considerable traces of their practices in significant burial assemblages and tombs. They also frequently used caves as shelters, as well as burials.

The Bronze Age in the Terra di Bari

It is a phase characterized by rapid development of cultural processes that brought about more complex social and economic structures in the course of the 2nd millennium BC, giving rise to the cities of the next millennium.

Built-up areas

After centuries of abandonment, the Apulian coast was occupied again by settlements that spread on sites suitable for docking: the development of built-up areas along the Apulian coast is related to the increasing economic interest in a maritime trading network that encompassed the Aegean territories, and in particular the Mycenean world, and involved the diffusion of goods, technology and the spread of cultural impulses among the indigenous peoples. The built-up areas along the Adriatic coast lasted for centuries, on low promontories with natural docks, and enclosed themselves with massive stone walls (Mola di Bari), giving origin to today’s main urban centres.

The establishment of stable settlements that were structurally visible, surrounded by walls and provided with docking facilities, left a visible mark on the landscape; the Mediterranean shrubland on the coast stretches up to the first terraces of the Murge which give way to hornbeam and oak woods where deer hunting used to be practiced, and to wide spaces that could provide grazing for sheep, goats and cattle, these also used as draught animals. The activities did not exclude agricultural practices and olive-oil production, which spread thanks to trade relations with the Aegean. Bronze metallurgy assumed increasing importance as well: specialized craftsmen, who moved from one centre to the other, produced farm implements, woodworking tools, weapons, ornaments and other artifacts that were also appreciated by the Mycenaean societies. As well as in wealthy burial assemblages, metal objects were found in hoards (axes from Canne), deposits interpreted as forms of treasure or supply of raw material intended for remelting

Society and funerary rites

Given the lack of written sources, archaeology reconstructs the characteristics of the society through data mainly found in burials. Wealthy burial assemblages, some even consisting of ornaments made of exotic materials (amber found in the dolmen La Chianca), suggest that important transformations took place in the society with the advent of “aristocratic” groups around 1500 BC. The presence of weapons, symbols of power and wealth, seems to refer to the emergence of warriors and to competitions that occurred between communities, as well as within the social nucleus, but it could also be associated with hunting activities. The different types of funerary structures, including collective burials, indicate different traditions: they could either be barely visible from outside (hypogea, cave burials – Grotta della Tartaruga) or, on the contrary, be signaled by monumental structures, such as the mounds of stone covering imposing dolmens (La Chianca, Albarosa and S. Silvestro), megalithic monuments that acted as landmarks in the landscape and reference points for communities, perhaps on special occasions.


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