Saturday, November 12, 2011


Sergio Occhilupo, La necropoli capuana: per una definizione della prima fase tra l'età del bronzo finale e la prima età del ferro. Capua preromana, 10. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2011. Pp. 183. ISBN 9788862273091. € 495.00.

Reviewed by P. Gregory Warden, Southern Methodist University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Table of Contents at the end of the Review]

This volume publishes the results of two campaigns of salvage archaeology carried out by the Soprintendenza per Napoli e Caserta in 1987 and 1988 in the vicinity of Santa Maria Capua Vetere. The campaigns were undertaken as the result of clandestine activity and imminent loss through construction projects, when only a small part of this particular cemetery, dubbed the Necropoli del Nuovo Mattatoio ("New Slaughterhouse"), was excavated at that point. In fact, the excavators dug two long trenches, approximately 3-5 meters in width, following the proposed foundation walls of a structure that was fortunately never built. The first trench was 90 meters in length and produced 39 tombs; the second was 130 meters long and produced 25 tombs, for a total of 64. The peculiarity of this sample and the exigencies that produced this particular excavation strategy are not explained, but we are fortunate that the material was assigned to this author as a study topic, for the result is an exhaustive analysis of a group of tombs that is especially important evidence for the vexing issues of the transition from the Final Bronze to the Early Iron Age. The Nuovo Mattatoio Necropolis forms part of a much larger complex of funerary contexts that includes the Fornaci necropolis, systematically excavated by W. Johannowsky in the 1970s. Because so much of this material has not been thoroughly published, the appearance of this particular volume is especially noteworthy.

The basic history of the excavations is set out in a brief introduction: four paragraphs on the scope of the study, and three paragraphs on the actual excavations and topography of the site. There are excellent plans that are not thoroughly explained. Figure 4B, for instance, is a plan of the Nuovo Mattatoio Necropolis that shows many more tombs than are discussed in this volume; presumably these were excavated more recently, in 2005 and 2006, as is noted in Valeria Sampaolo's preface. The subsequent chapter catalogues the finds from the 64 tombs. It is followed by a close examination of their typology : the impasto ceramics that include various types of biconical urns, olle, and other standard shapes of the period, as well as bronze utensils, ornaments, and weapons. As one would expect from this phase, fibulae and straight pins are not uncommon; razors and weapons (a single sword and a single bronze point) are much rarer. Parallels with other sites in southern Etruria, particularly Caere, as well as sites closer at hand, for instance Pontecagnano, are cited.

A subsequent chapter discusses funerary ritual and the composition of the tomb groups. The author determines that 25 of the tombs were for females while seven were for males. This conclusion is based on "elementi caratterizzanti il genere del defunto," (p. 81) in this case fibulae, razors, and spindle whorls. Given the theoretical difficulties of this kind of gender attribution, now much discussed in the literature but not cited by the author, these conclusions need to be treated with caution. Particularly surprising is that in a chapter on funerary ritual, the skeletal remains are only mentioned in passing, with a brief footnote (p. 81, n. 1) that lists the cremation and inhumation burials that produced bones. Once again, as seems to be the case so often in publications of Italic or Etruscan cemeteries, there is no analysis or discussion of the skeletal remains.

The final chapter, four pages in length, discusses the subtitle of the volume: the "definition" of the transition from Final Bronze to Early Iron Age. The topic is of great importance, and the author is to be lauded for moving from the typological minutiae of the tomb groups to more interesting issues, particularly the question of how this change might be related to the presence of a definably Etruscan ethnicity in Campania. A problem is that the sample—the 64 tombs—is too small, but also vexing is the issue of how material culture can be used, if at all, to define culture more broadly or ethnicity more specifically. Still, the careful presentation of material of this kind is the first step, and we can only hope that more publications of the wealth of finds from Capua will follow.

Another methodological issue, which is no fault of the author, is the appalling excavation techniques described by Sampaolo in her preface. The resulting documentation consisted of "…semplici elenchi che accompagnavano i materiali nelle cassette di scavo redatti dal personale di custodia dell'Ufficio archeologico" as well as photographs and "pochi disegni." (p. 10) The author has reconstructed much from very little. Since the tomb groups consist of only a few objects, it would be reassuring to know more about the problems of reconstruction and the methods used in this particular case. And really, this excavation was carried out in the 1980s. Things may have been hurried, and there may not have been much funding, but there is no excuse for lack of record keeping. As described in the preface, the lack of proper archaeological method (even by nineteenth century standards!) seems ethically problematic. This carelessness is hardly the fault of the present-day authorities, nor of the author, who doubtless wanted to avoid criticizing his predecessors in print, but more clarity on the nature of the secondary evidence would have been useful.

The volume is handsomely printed on heavy paper, with generous drawings but only adequate black-and-white photographs. Given the specialized nature of the material and the cost (which is not a typo), it will probably be purchased by only a few specialized libraries.

Table of Contents

Maria Bonghi Jovino, Valeria Sampaolo, Premessa.
Introduzione: Lo scavo e la topografia.
Tipologia e cronologia:
1. La tipologia:
A. Ceramica di impasto; La produzione delle forme di impasto.
B. Oggetti di ornamento.
C. Utensili.
D. Armi; La produzione dei bronzi.
2. La cronologia.
Il rituale funerario e la composizione dei corredi:
1. Il rituale funerario.
2. La composizione dei corredi.
3. Schema riassuntivo delle composizioni dei corredi.
Capua tra la fine dell'età del Bronzo e la prima età del Ferro.
Elenco della documentazione grafica e fotografica delle tombe.

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