Sunday, September 28, 2014


Jacopo Tabolli, Narce tra la prima età del Ferro e l'Orientalizzante antico: l'abitato, i Tufi e la Petrina (2 vols.). Mediterranea supplemento, 9. Civiltà arcaica dei Sabini nella valle del Tevere, 4. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2013. Pp. 804. ISBN 9788862276061. €1,485.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ingrid Edlund-Berry, University of Texas at Austin (

Version at BMCR home site

As Jacopo Tabolli is well aware, the topic of the Faliscan territory and culture can be difficult to approach. The area is not as well-known as neighboring Etruria or Latium, and the history of scholarship is long and complex. It is therefore to the author's credit that he has assembled all the relevant documentation and presents a careful and detailed analysis of the material from two cemeteries, I Tufi and La Petrina, dating from the Iron Age and Orientalizing periods, documented in two volumes, one with text, and the second with illustrations.

As outlined in Chapter 1, the history of the discovery and excavations at ancient Narce is intimately connected with the archaeological endeavors of the unified country of Italy. Power struggles prevailed, and the archaeological finds became part of the jockeying for positions within a newly established hierarchy. Attention was first placed on highlighting ancient Falerii, and as the Villa Giulia museum in Rome opened in 1889, it was intentionally referred to as the Faliscan Museum. Ancient Narce had for some years been pushed into the background, but interest in the site increased as it was considered to represent the earliest history of the Faliscans. Throughout the early years of excavations, the responsibility for the local plots of land wavered between the official representatives of archaeological research (Conte Adolfo Cozza) and the local landowners, and, because of personal animosities, the scientific results of the discoveries suffered and outsiders such as Arthur Frothingham were able to purchase objects for American collections. After subsequent periods of oblivion, the area of Narce has only recently been re-evaluated, first by necessity prompted by road constructions in the 1960s and by clandestine operations, and second through the surveys and excavations by the British School at Rome. The creation of a regional park (Parco Regionale del Treja) in 1982 has helped solidify the archaeological component as part of attempts to protect the pristine natural setting.

In Chapter II the author discusses the location of ancient Narce ( explained by Barnabei as derived from 'arce', the peak), at the confluence of the river Treja and the Fosso della Mola di Magliano, where the three main areas, Narce proper, Monte Li Santi, and Pizzo Piede, formed an important center. Earlier research had postulated a continuity of occupation, but Tabolli, following the work of di Gennaro, proposes a hiatus between the late Bronze Age (BF3B) and the Iron Age (first half of the 8th century B.C.); the latest phase of occupation ended in the early 3rd century B.C. The spread of habitation on three or more hills, perhaps initiated at Narce proper, suggests similarities with other Faliscan as well as Latial sites, unlike the Etruscan settlements located on one major hill. By scrutinizing early site plans and analyzing the material from a brief exploratory excavation conducted by Mengarelli in 1933, Tabolli reconstructs the chronology of habitation on the Narce and Monte Li Santi hills, confirming the hiatus between the Bronze and Iron Age.

As can be expected, the majority of finds from Narce and its immediate surroundings consists of tomb groups, isolated, or connected with a specific tomb as presented in Chapter III. Recent explorations in 2010 and 2011 served to verify the location of tombs in two cemeteries (I Tufi and La Petrina), which were partially documented as early as 1894 in Monumenti Antichi vol. IV. Of the two, La Petrina was described as consisting of three separate units; by combining archival research with site exploration, Tabolli has succeeded in establishing a unified plan that includes examples of chamber tombs not previously recorded. The location and extent of the I Tufi cemetery have likewise been verified.

The corpus of material thus identified consists of 136 tomb groups, arranged in chronological order by the date of discovery, ranging from 1890 to 2012. The tomb groups are labeled by letters (A, B, and C for La Petrina, and T for I Tufi), and numbers based on the records published in Monumenti Antichi . Each catalogue entry contains all available information about date of excavation, tomb type, burial type, a detailed list of finds, and bibliographical references. The text is accompanied by site plans and drawings of tomb types in the Figures, and each tomb group is presented in line drawings in the Plates.

In Chapter IV Tabolli presents the typology of tombs and of tomb objects from Narce which takes into account earlier classifications (for which see Monumenti Antichi as well as comparisons with other related sites such as Crustumerium. The tombs are classified as pozzi ('pits'), fosse ('rectangular graves'), loculi ('niches' ) , and camere ('rooms'), of which the first type is used exclusively for cremation burials, whereas the fosse were primarily for inhumation burials.

The tomb objects are classified according to the system developed by Peroni, with some modifications. Classes such as aryballoi, kantharoi, or fibule are clearly defined, and— as needed— subdivided into famiglie, tipi, varietà, varianti all described and referenced to individual objects from Narce. Although the classification may at first seem daunting in its exactness, it allows both beginning students and senior scholars to apply the information provided to material from other sites. The clear and concise verbal descriptions are supplemented by well executed drawings.

In order to analyze the material and provide a secure chronology for the cemeteries, different methods were used, including the seriation programs Winbasp and Past. The results suggest a relative chronology of four phases, ranging from 780 to 670 B.C., which can be correlated with sites such as Veii, Osteria dell'Osa, Pontecagnano and Pithecusa (Ischia) . The tomb types and locations within the cemeteries are presented in the figures accompanying the text.

Chapter V presents the general conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence available at the two cemeteries. Their location is well defined in relation to the settlements at Narce-Monte Li Santi in that the two rivers, Treja and Fosso della Mola di Magliano, serve as boundaries between space for the living and space for the dead. As can expected, the cemeteries were also aligned with the roads that provided access to and from Narce. Thus, the road between Calcata to the north and Mazzano to the south passed through the cemetery at I Tufi, and the tombs at La Petrina were aligned with the road towards Falerii. The configuration of the landscape and the roads may have made tumulus tomb C2 at the highest point a landmark that, according to Tabolli, marked the access to Narce.

Within the two cemeteries, the tombs can be grouped according to location and orientation, and Tabolli identifies three distinct groups for I Tufi, and five for section A of La Petrina. Of these, the central part of section A includes the earliest tombs, oriented east-west, and, later, northeast-southwest, with one example (tomb A19) oriented northnortheast-southsouthwest.

As can be expected, the amount of bones preserved from the tombs varies a great deal, depending on the type of burial. For I Tufi, studies by L. Salvadei identify thirteen individuals, and by combining the bone analysis with the tomb contexts it may be possible to provide a distribution by age (from 0 to +50 years) and gender (10 male burials; 8 female). For La Petrina, the identification of gender is based only on the tomb contexts, and provides evidence of 11 male burials and 18 female.

As for the burial rites, the cremation process may have taken place inside the excavated pit ( pozzo), or at a nearby location. Based on an analysis of the remains, the temperature of cremation ranged from ca. 600 to above 700 degrees. In the inhumation burials the body seems to have been placed in a wooden casket or stone sarcophagus: at La Petrina most of the wooden caskets were used for male burials and the stone sarcophagi for female burials. In the earlier phases (2A, 2B and 3), the body was placed with head towards the east, whereas beginning in phase 4, the head was facing west. The covering of the inhumation burial included layers of sand and stone, well documented in tomb A1/2012 published in 2012 (here Fig. 3.57). The sarcophagus in this tomb was further equipped with openings for body fluids to drain , suggesting that the body was allowed to be ritually purified and viewed before the final closure of the tomb.

Since tomb groups often preserve the only information we have of a burial, it is important to analyze the types and numbers of objects as indicators of chronology but also gender and age of the person buried. Tabolli uses a model for grouping the tomb context within each phase by establishing the indicative elements (associazione base) of objects, to which others are added in different combinations depending on each tomb. For example, one group of tombs in phase 3 contains an olla (jar) and a holmos (stand) as the indicative elements, complemented with personal adornments such as earrings or necklaces and 'accompanying material' (corredo di accompagno) such as cups or amphoras. These groupings are further used to suggest wealth, gender, and other criteria for identifying the dead.

As a further means of interpreting the tomb and the contents, Tabolli includes a set of drawings, initially prepared by Enrico Stefani, reconstructing male and female clothing and use of jewelry, weapons, and tools. Although some details may be uncertain, the drawings are useful guides to different alternatives for adornment and for suggesting distinctions of gender (razor for men; axe for women).

Tabolli concludes Chapter V with a section that suggests the social groups within the areas of I Tufi and La Petrina, associating pairs of tombs with one male and one female burial such as T5 and T6 and T9 and T16 at I Tufi, or family units within one particular area of a cemetery, such as the group of tombs, in chronological order, A5, A3, A2, and A1 in La Petrina.

Throughout the presentation of the remains from La Petrina and I Tufi the author achieves a good balance between recording and interpreting individual finds and tombs while reminding the reader that the evidence available is incomplete, and that the site of Narce and surrounding area has so much more to offer—. continued study and publication will be necessary to present all aspects of Narce as a Faliscan site comparable with those of its Etruscan and Latial neighbors. Or, as Tabolli points out in the final section, Narce is "allo stesso tempo centro e confine". Thanks to the author who has used every avenue possible to provide new evidence from old excavations we are now in a better position to evaluate the evidence and look forward to continued research. The second volume of the book contains the maps and documents discussed in the first three chapters of volume one, followed by line drawings of the tomb objects, arranged by types, as illustrations of the text in Chapter Four. The figures for Chapter Five include plans of tomb locations and tomb types, whereas the section of plates serves to illustrate the contents of tomb groups discussed in Chapter Three, presented as line drawings. The quality of the line drawings is excellent, but the photographs tend to be less crisp, and the tight binding of the spine will most likely discourage frequent handling.

This is definitely a book for specialists who will rejoice in finding all the relevant information assembled in one publication. Because of the importance of the site and its history, one can only wish that the author will continue his study of the area and the material and present it in a more accessible form, highlighting the landscape and the sites as well as the many finds. While we await a more complete study of Narce, two recent resources are the Virtual Museum at Mazzano Romano (Museo Civico Archeologico – Virtuale di Narce), which houses a highly creative display of images illustrating the ties between ancient and modern Faliscans, and the article "The Faliscans and the Etruscans," by Maria Anna De Lucia Brolli and Jacopo Tabolli, in The Etruscan World, edited by Jean. MacIntosh Turfa, (London and New York 2013), 259-280. Although perhaps obvious to students and scholars living in Italy, the location of Narce and surrounding sites is an important component for our understanding of the history of this region, so different from Latium or Etruria.

It was a pleasure to review this publication. It is also regrettable that its price will make it inaccessible for most potential readers. If we value archaeological publications of primary material as essential for the future of our profession, we need to make a unified effort to make them available and affordable to individual students and scholars as well as to libraries throughout the world.

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