Mobility of people and things in Bronze Age Italy


Mobility of people and things in Bronze Age Italy

Workshop, Thursday 31st May 2018, 10:00 a.m. – 6 p.m. The British School at Rome

Via Antonio Gramsci, 61, 00197 Roma RM

06 3264939


Themes and aims of the workshop

The workshop “Mobility of people and things in Bronze Age Italy”, hosted by the British School at Rome will focus on some key-questions, which are currently at the top of the archaeological research agenda in Europe and in other parts of the world: what approaches can we use to identify movements of people, materials and intangible culture in the archaeological record? Why does the Bronze Age represent a privileged domain for mobility studies? What were the characteristics, meanings and social implications of mobility for the communities settled in Italy during the second millennium BC and how did mobility contribute to shaping their historical trajectories?

Presentations from specialists will discuss new data from Bronze Age Italy and methodological advances in biogeochemistry (isotopes), archaeometry (petrography and mineralogy), landscape and distribution analyses.

Recent theories from the social sciences on human mobility have changed the conceptual basis on which archaeologists understand movement, including an emphasis on “routes instead of roots”. At the same time, recent technological improvements in genomic sequencing, isotope analysis of teeth/bones and archaeological materials as well as network analyses, are transforming the map of the Bronze Age Italy and Europe from a mosaic of static archaeological cultures to a fluid world of inter-dependent polities acting in complex landscapes.

After decades of mainstream scepticism, mainly streaming from a desire to reject traditional culture-historical ideas, migrations, diasporas, and the general displacement of individuals, objects and ideas have returned as one of the most frequently cited explanations for cultural transformation. In recent years, advances in scientific methodologies have significantly facilitated the use of mobility as a primary metric with which to evaluate past societal change, continuity and stagnation.

In addition, the urgency of a discussion on this topic arises from the increasing sophistication of scientific methods, which is amplifying the distance between humanities and science-based interpretations. The workshop, therefore, aims not only to provide a much-needed survey of the current state of research, but also to develop an interdisciplinary debate on the theoretical and methodological framework for further advances in archaeological research on mobility.

Mobility, migration, social interaction and permeability. Exploring how societies respond to these phenomena in the past may contribute to the debate about the greatest single challenge that is currently facing Europe.



Dr. Claudio Cavazzuti, prof. Robin Skeates


Confirmed speakers

Alberta Arena, Sapienza – Università di Roma, Freie Universität Berlin

Alberto Cazzella, Sapienza – Università di Roma

Andrea Cardarelli, Sapienza – Università di Roma

Andrew Millard, Durham University, UK

Angela Trentacoste, University of Oxford

Antonio Carandente, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia

Boris Olujić, University of Zagreb

Claudio Cavazzuti, Durham University, UK

Cristopher Prescott, Norwegian School at Rome

David Vicenzutto, Università degli Studi di Padova

Elisa Dalla Longa, Università degli Studi di Padova

Emil Prodrug Muzej Grada Šibenika

Flavio De Angelis, Università di Roma Tor Vergata

Francesca Cortese, Università di Roma Tor Vergata

Giovanni Leonardi, Università degli Studi di Padova

Giovanni Tasca, Università degli Studi di Padova

Giulia Recchia, Università degli Studi di Foggia

Ilenia Arienzo, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia

Ilaria Rucco, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia

Jan Sevink, University of Amsterdam

Isabella Damiani, Musei Capitolini

Luca Alessandri, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands

Maja Gori, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany

Marco Bettelli, CNR – ISMA (Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico)

Mario Federico Rolfo, Università di Roma Tor Vergata

Maryanne Tafuri, Sapienza – Università di Roma

Maurizio Cattani, Università degli Studi di Bologna

Mauro Antonio Di Vito, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia

Michele Cupitò, Università degli Studi di Padova

Robin Skeates, Durham University, UK



Talks and discussion will be in Italian or English.


Participation fees

The participation to the workshop is free, coffee/tea breaks and a final wine reception will be provided by the organization. Lunch is offered only to the invited speakers.

Any non-speaker participant who would like to join the common lunch at The British School can pre-register in advance (within 15th of May 2018) and pay 12 euro at the registration desk at the moment of arrival. As food and drinks have to be bought in advance according to the expected numbers, we kindly ask you to pre-register for the lunch only if you really intend to join us. Otherwise, there are restaurants and coffee bars with sandwiches and any kind of hot meals, just beside the British School (Caffè delle Arti) and 100 metres further (Arch Bar).

For any information and pre-registration for the common lunch, please contact or 0039 3389095308 (Claudio Cavazzuti).


How to arrive

The British School at Rome is situated just north of Rome’s historic centre in the Valle Giulia, which separates the Parioli district from the Villa Borghese Gardens. This area, less than 10 minutes walk from Piazza del Popolo, is home to several foreign academies, embassies, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna and the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia.

Reaching the British School at Rome with public transport is quite easy (see the map): if you arrive at Termini Train Station, take Metro B (direction “Rebibbia” or “Jonio”) and stop at “Policlinico” metro station. Then, just outside metro station (viale Regina Margherita), take Tram n. 3 (direction “Piazza Thorvaldsen/Valle Giulia”) or n. 19 (direction “Risorgimento/S. Pietro”) and stop at Piazza Thorvaldsen/Valle Giulia, which is just in front of the British School at Rome. The whole journey should take around 30-40 minutes.

If you plan to come by car there are parking places all around the British School at Rome, but most of them are “blue”. Parking ticket costs 1 euro per hour.

mappa termini_BSR


Tales from the plain. Being humans, with no constraints


What has always intrigued me of the plains is the apparent homogeneity of the space, essentially bi-dimensional. Diversely from the rest of Italy (and Europe, with very few exceptions), where hills and mountains domain the landscape, the Po plain is a huge flat place not constrained by the caprices of the Earth’s crust.

I like to imagine the plain as a canvas where people of all epochs have been designing their own world in the way they shaped it into their minds. It may be seen as an authentic tension towards the utopia, since there is no other natural obstacle to the realization of the ideas, if not man himself, with his physical and intellectual limits. Not by accident, this is the place where the Italian Renaissance architects have experienced the building of the “ideal city“, such as Palmanova, Sabbioneta, or Terra del Sole close to Forlì.

To a certain extent, here nature has been domesticated. The channel system provides prevention to floods and drought, as well as a fast and straightforward route to the main rivers, and finally to the Adriatic sea. Frequent earthquakes remain a problem, still far beyond any human control.

A brief tour of the countryside could easily reveal how space is organized to maximize the agricultural surplus. Regular plots of land, a legacy of the Roman centuriation,  leave no space to wild, uncultivated areas. At the same time, perfectly straight roads ensure easy and quick connections between settlements and improve trade and networks.

For a researcher interested in the social history, the opportunity to study a place like this is unique. The successes and failures of the past societies, here, cannot be attributed to other than the strategies they pursued. External influences, of course, could intervene positively or negatively, but their consequences, whatever they were, mattered in the short term, rather than in the long durée.

6647666c4fd642d38973e09b3e873cd4-1Along with its physiological uniformity, the central part of the Po plain displays a considerable degree of cultural identity. The area enclosed between Mantova and Verona in the north and Reggio Emilia and Modena in the south appears particularly homogeneous from the point of view of the dialect, customs, and tradition, in spite of the little local adaptions. Take the cuisine, for example, a very popular aspect of culture in these places. Although everyone claims for the invention of a certain speciality (with endless debates), the recipes are definitely not so different.

Variations nonetheless exist, especially when we look at the events that took place in the two areas, north and south of the Po river, from prehistory to the present days. Here we are forced to make distinctions and to observe different historical trajectories.

With the Ex-SPACE project, we are looking at the dawn of the plain as we know it. We have to go back to the Bronze Age and to the Terramare culture. But we need to wait a bit… this will be the topic of our next tale.


The importance of being…petrous bone

Petrous bone is the star of the moment!


This small bone, located in the inner part of the temporal bone, is the densest part of the human skeleton. Interestingly, it is now giving great satisfactions to the large troop of researchers who are dealing with the mobility of ancient individuals and populations, a matter of great importance for the endless debate on the origins of archaeological cultures.

In the last 3 years, many studies have been coming out about the strontium isotopes and the DNA, revealing how much our ancestors were mobile on the large and small territorial scale.

The analysis of strontium isotopes allow us to determine if an individual died were he/she was born or immigrated from another place. Usually, this analysis is led on tooth enamel, but when the deceased is cremated, tooth crowns explodes and the enamel is destroyed. What is the option then? Here it comes the petrous bone. Since it is so dense, it is normally well-preserved in cremation burials. Like the tooth enamel, it forms during childhood and it does not significantly remodel during the lifetime.


Analysing some milligrammes of bones from the inner part of the petrous bone (pars petrosa), it is possible to determine if the strontium isotope ratio is compatible with the local baselines (given by geology, vegetal and faunal remains) and therefore if the individual was local or non-local.

The problem with the isotope analysis, however, is that we are able to retrace the movement of an individual but how can we know if was not him/her, but his/her ancestor to migrate in that region? The solution can be found in ancient DNA, which preserves the “history” of the lineage and its movement through space and time, by looking at its various components

The sequencing of ancient of DNA is now mainly carried out on petrous bone. According to the study of Cristina Gamba and others (2014), it contains a higher quantity of endogenous DNA that exceeds those from the teeth by 4- to 16-fold and from other bones up to 183-fold. Thus, while other skeletal elements yielded human, non-clonal DNA contents ranging from 0.3 to 20.7%, the levels for petrous bones ranged from 37.4 to 85.4%.

Even if the archaeological fieldwork and discovery, as well as the material studies, will continue to amaze us, it is still extraordinary what we can obtain from a few milligrammes of a small piece of bone. The pars petrosa will certainly reserve us new stimulating pictures on the movement of our ancestors, from the Paleolithic to the recent times.


More information about the petrous bone and its uses in archaeology

Strontium Isotope Signals in Cremated Petrous Portions as Indicator for Childhood Origin

Genome flux and stasis in a five millennium transect of European prehistory

Optimal Ancient DNA Yields from the Inner Ear Part of the Human Petrous Bone

A minimally-invasive method for sampling human petrous bones from the cranial base for ancient DNA analysis