Adriatic Sailors and Stone Knappers: Palagruza in the 3rd Millennium BC

By Kaiser, Timothy; Forenbaher, Staso | Antiquity, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Adriatic Sailors and Stone Knappers: Palagruza in the 3rd Millennium BC


Kaiser, Timothy, Forenbaher, Staso, Antiquity


Introduction

Interactional phenomena, both local and long-distance, are often implicated in explanations of social change, and this is the case in Mediterranean archaeology (e.g. Renfrew 1972; Patton 1996). Despite interest in contact phenomena, little attention is paid to those figures who achieved such contacts, the Mediterranean's ancient mariners and their passengers. One problem is the lack of sites which document such contact. In this paper we seek to comprehend the archaeology of one such likely place, a small island group in the Adriatic Sea.

Palagruza and Mala Palagruza are islets in the centre of the Adriatic (16 [degrees] 15[minutes]E, 42 [degrees] 23[minutes]N), at the mid-point in a chain of islands stretching from Italy to mainland Dalmatia [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. From Palagruza, one can see Italy to the south and the large islands hugging the Dalmatian coast to the north. The prevailing currents and winds around Palagruza help rather than hinder maritime traffic during the sailing season, and for an ancient navigator, Palagruza enjoyed a key position within the Adriatic (Kaiser & Kirigin 1994: 65-6).

Palagruza is 1390 m long and 270 m wide. The main topographical features are a peak at the west end of the island and an east-running ridge indented by two small plateaux. The north slope of the island is steep, descending at 2530 [degrees] from Palagruza's spine to the water, whereas the south coast is a forbidding line of cliffs rising 50-70 m above the sea. Palagruza has no source of fresh water, but modest amounts of rain at all seasons are sufficient to support life there.

So far, our surface, subsurface and underwater investigations of Palagruza and Mala Palagruza have located six archaeological localities, including Early Neolithic, Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age, Classical and Hellenistic Greek, and Roman remains (Kaiser & Kirigin 1994; Forenbaher et al. 1994). Below we consider some Copper/Bronze Age questions raised by finds on Palagruza.

Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age finds on

Palagruza From the late 3rd millennium BC, Palagruza was visited repeatedly by Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age sailors, who left their most visible traces on and below the island's central plateau. These consist of a small, disturbed complex (Palagruza 1) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. The plateau is the island's largest expanse of level ground and it is not surprising that it has been used at other times, including the 6th to the 4th century BC by Classical and Hellenistic Greeks, and later by the Romans. All prehistoric archaeological material is of Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age date. The Italian archaeologist Carlo de Marchesetti and the English adventurer Richard Burton visited the island together in 1873 and reported that, among other finds, bones, stone tools and pottery had been encountered during modern quarrying (Marchesetti 1876: 287-9; Burton 1879: 179).

No pre-medieval architectural features survive on the central plateau (Kirigin & Cace 1998). The late 3rd-millennium BC occupation is a 6000-sq. m area below the plateau containing abundant artefactual remains in secondary contexts. Survey of this downslope area retrieved a decorated stone wristguard; a variety of projectile points and lunates; retouched blades and bladelets; core fragments; and pottery of the Cetina culture. Systematic sampling included a series of test trenches (11.5 sq. m total) excavated on the slope. These units revealed a uniform stratigraphy, where Cetina pottery and lithics were found in a 10-25-cm humus layer with occasional Greek and Roman material. No other prehistoric material was found, nor were any organic materials associated with these artefacts. Beneath this layer were sterile clayey colluvial sediments 30-50 cm thick lying upon scree and bedrock.

Dating Palagruza 1

Since Palagruza 1 did not yield any materials suitable for absolute dating, all our chronological considerations are restricted to cross-dating based upon formal stylistic criteria.

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