The Gravettian Burial Known as the Prince ("Il Principe"): New Evidence for His Age and Diet. (Research)

By Pettitt, P. B.; Richards, M. et al. | Antiquity, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Gravettian Burial Known as the Prince ("Il Principe"): New Evidence for His Age and Diet. (Research)


Pettitt, P. B., Richards, M., Maggi, R., Formicola, V., Antiquity


Introduction

"Il Principe" (the Prince) is the nickname given to a spectacular Mid Upper Palaeolithic (Gravettian) burial discovered at Arene Candide, Italy in 1942. Arene Candide is a large cave located about 90 m above sea level on the slope of the Caprazoppa promontory, along the Ligurian coast near Finale Ligure (Savona, Italy). The cave is named after a dune of white siliceous sand of aeolian origin, banked against the wall of the promontory, today destroyed by quarrying activity. Systematic excavation of its rich deposit was carried out at the beginning of the 1940's by Bernabo Brea and Cardini who exposed a stratigraphic sequence which ranged from the Upper Palaeolithic to historical times and included many burials of Late Epigravettian and Neolithic date (Bernabo Brea, 1946; Cardini 1980 1994; Maggi 1977).

The burial of "Il Principe" (Arene Candide 1) came to light on 1 May 1942, during the excavation of a sondaggio (test core) into the Pleistocene deposits, shortly before the excavations were interrupted by the war (Cardini 1942). The skeleton of an adolescent male (Sergi et al. 1972), spectacularly ornamented (hence "Il Principe"), was found at a depth 6.70 m in a bed of red ochre, its head surrounded by hundreds of perforated shells and canines of deer, probably originally forming a kind of cap. Shells (Ciprea sp.), pendants of mammoth ivory, four perforated "batons de commandement" of elk antler, three of which were decorated with thin radial striations around the hole (Molari 1994), and a 23 cm long flint blade held in the right hand were additional components of the extraordinary ornamentation of this specimen (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The recent work carried out by the authors and reported here employed scientific analysis of IL Principe's skeleton, preserved in the Museo di Archeologia Ligure, to measure a direct date by AMS and examine the stable isotope assemblage for information about diet.

AMS radiocarbon dating

A sample of 380mg drilled from a femur of the Arene Candide 1 skeleton was pretreated using the standard Oxford procedure for bone. As the curatorial history of the sample was unknown, it was suspected that an unidentified form of preservative may have been used and pre-treatment methods were undertaken assuming potential contamination. Of particular relevance was the use of an ultrafilter (Brown et al. 1988), which has been shown to successfully remove preservatives applied to bones. This allowed us to be confident about the absence of contaminating carbon from the sample we measured. After pre-treatment, a sample of 0.4 mg carbon was measured in the Oxford Accelerator Mass Spectrometer, and the result was as follows:

OxA-10700 Arene Candide 1 "Il Principe", bone, Homo sapiens,-[[delta].sup.13]C=-17.6 [[delta].sup.15]N = 12.4, C/N ratio = 3.2. 23440 [+ or -] 190 years BP

The result is uncalibrated and expressed in radiocarbon years BP (where Before Present = AD1950), using the half life of 5568 years. Isotopic fractionation has been corrected for using the measured [[delta].sup.13]C values quoted (to [+ or -] 0.3 per mil relative to VPDB). At two standard deviations, the result shows that the burial was emplaced between 23820-23060 BP, clearly within the 24th millennium (uncal) BP.

Comparison with other [sup.14]C dates available for the archaeological layers at Arene Candide shows that our direct date is statistically the same age at one standard deviation as that obtained from charcoal recently recovered from "Hearth VI" of Cardini's stratigraphy (Beta--53983: 23450 [+ or -] 220, 23890-23010 at 2[sigma]: Macphail et al. 1994). At first sight this is potentially problematic as the two dates pertain to distinct stratigraphical units: Arene Candide 1 was found "just below or at the bottom of the fifth of a series of eight hearths" (Cardini 1994:38), so, based on the amount of deposit between hearth V and VI (see Bietti and Molari 1994: Figure 7), one might expect some age difference between the two. …

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