Carra, Subsistence economy in the Bronze Age in the northern Apennines upland

Marialetizia Carra

ArcheoLaBio, Centro di Ricerche di Bioarcheologia, Alma Mater Studiorum, Università di Bologna


 At present, the archaeobotanical studies concerning the upland sites of the northern Apennines are sporadic compared to the lowland sites. Furthermore, the techniques of sampling, treatment and analysis of plant remains are often outdated. Therefore, an overall picture of the subsistence economy of the Bronze Age is lacking. Fortunately, a greater interest in these marginal areas has reawakened in recent years. Especially material culture and settlement structures are the subject of study, palaeoenvironmental analyzes are less frequent.

Monterenzio Vecchio (BO) and Faieto (RE) are two sites which are the subject of personal palaeocarpological research on upland sites.

Monterenzio Vecchio is located in the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines at an altitude of 600 meters and was excavated between 2004 and 2012 by the University of Bologna (prof. Maurizio Cattani) and the competent Superintendence. The structures brought to light are use floors, terraces, hearths and post holes. The chronology of the site is between the Middle Bronze Age 3 and the Recent Bronze Age 1[1].

The Faieto site is located on the ridge that separates the catchment basin of the Enza from that of the Crostolo. Faieto is located at an altitude of 690 meters and was excavated between 1997 and 2000 by the Civici Musei of Reggio Emilia (dr. James Tirabassi) and by the competent Superintendency. The remains of a housing structure, placed on a terrace of anthropic origin have been found. Also in this case, the chronology obtained from the material culture is between the Middle Bronze Age 3 and the Recent Bronze Age 1[2]. Although in the same chronology, the two sites differ from a cultural point of view: Monterenzio recalls the sub-Apennine facies, Faieto is inserted in the Terramarian cultural sphere.


[1] Guerra 2015; Guerra et al., 2018.

[2] Tirabassi 1999; Tirabassi 2003.

Fig. 1. Excavation section of the Faieto settlement.


Soil samples were taken during the excavation field and subsequently the samples were subjected to manual flotation with small mesh sieves for the recovery of plant macro-remains. The samples from Monterenzio are almost entirely studied, while the data from Faieto are preliminary[3]. The chronological phases investigated concern the Recent Bronze Age levels.


The results of the analyzes show several similarities between the sites. Cereal growing appears to be the main source of food in the two settlements; barley, various species of wheat and millet are the most represented plants.


[3] Carra 2012; Carra 2013.

Fig. 2. Grain of charred millet (Panicum miliaceum).


Millet (Panicum miliaceum) is a cereal that spread throughout Italy during the Bronze Age. Its short vegetative cycle makes it suitable as a second crop or as an alternation with other cereals (beginning of crop rotation). Several species of wheat were probably grown in the same fields: barley (Hordeum vulgare), emmer (Triticum dicoccum), einkorn (Triticum monococcum), but above all spelt (Triticum spelta), which spread during the Bronze Age. In general, hulled wheat is preferred to naked wheat, which is perhaps more susceptible to parasites. “New glume wheat” (Triticum timopheevii type, of Neolithic tradition) was found in Monterenzio but not in Faieto, this difference is probably due to the partiality of the study of the samples. Oats (Avena sp.) and rye (Secale cereale) are sporadic occurrences. In particular, it is not clear whether oats should already be considered a cultivated species or a weed, harvested and consumed together with other cereals.

Pulses are less documented and include broad beans (Vicia faba), lentils (Lens culinaris), grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) and vetch (Vicia sp.). Flax (Linum usitatissimum), opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and other cultivated species have not yet been found in Faieto and Monterenzio.

The reconstruction of the environment in the two sites is obtained through the study of the spontaneous species. The herbaceous species are variously present and mainly testify to crop weeds and anthropogenic plants. It must be emphasized that in "dry" environments spontaneous plants tend to be preserved less than in waterlogged sediments.

The tree and shrub species, on the other hand, testify to man's interest in spontaneous fruits. In this case there are greater similarities between the two sites, but also, for example, with the sites located in the plains. The interest in fruit is therefore homogeneous for the Bronze Age and concerns: figs (Ficus carica), acorns (Quercus sp.), hazelnuts (Corylus avellana), apples (Malus sp.), pears (Pyrus sp.), hawthorn (Crataegus sp.), blackberries (Rubus gr. ulmifolius), etc. Dogwood (Cornus mas) and vine (Vitis vinifera) are certified and seem to prove their use for fermented drinks.

Fig. 3. The fruits found in Monterenzio Vecchio.


  Research comparisons and perspectives

 Comparison with the data from Monterenzio and Faieto with the other upland sites of the northern Apennines is limited by the scarcity of carpological research done. Monte Castellaccio (BO), Monte Leoni (PR) and Grotta del Farneto (BO)[4] are the other sites examined. This research dates back to the last century and needs to be integrated with the study of new sites, excavated according to multidisciplinary criteria.

On the contrary, lowland sites are mostly studied and research teams have been set up to analyze settlements such as Solarolo (RA), Montale (MO), Tabina di Magreta (MO), Terramara di S. Ambrogio (MO), Pragatto (BO), Noceto (PR), Anzola dell'Emilia (BO)[5], to mention the main ones.

All these researches, at the moment, seem to highlight a homogeneity in the exploitation of agricultural and environmental resources, but the data available to us are probably not sufficient to confirm this first idea. For this reason, the opening of new excavations foreseen by the "Upland Archeology" project will be of fundamental importance. The main purposes will be to investigate the modalities of the upland population and the relationships with the lowland settlements. The same perspectives, of course, concern paleo-environmental and paleo-economic reconstruction.

From a methodological point of view, the programming of a sampling and the possibility of a homogeneous treatment of the samples will be of fundamental importance for the achievement of the proposed aims.


[4] Bandini Mazzanti et al. 1996; Ammerman et al. 1976, Ruffini 1975.

[5] Carra 2009; Carra 2013; Mercuri et al. 2006; Mercuri et al. 2015; Bandini Mazzanti e Taroni 1988; Miari et al. 2019; Desantis et al. 2011; Bernabò Brea, Cremaschi 2009.




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