Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Serenella De Natale, Pontecagnano II.7. La necropoli del Picentino: Tombe della Prima Età del Ferro della proprietà Colucci. Collection du Centre Jean Bérard, 46. Napoli: CNRS, 2016. Pp. 147; 88 p. of plates. ISBN 9782918887706. €28.00.

Reviewed by Christopher Smith, British School at Rome; University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site

Pontecagnano is now one of the best published Italic sites, with a sequence of remarkable volumes which take the history of the site from the Neolithic to the late Roman period. One of the earlier volumes, also on the Iron Age tombs, was a superb collection of material by De Natale, and the quality of the work in this volume is its peer; sadly its author is no longer with us, but d'Agostino and Gastaldi have beautifully edited the volume as a fitting tribute, and a lasting work of scholarship. 1

The quality of the publication of Pontecagnano belies the site's troubled discovery, between tomb robbing, rescue archaeology consequent on the construction of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway in the 1960s, and finally the creation of the Parco Archeologico in 1993. 2 Yet the importance of the site cannot be overstated; its position just south of Salerno makes it a critical boundary site between Greek and Italian populations, and an early indicator of Roman intentions in southern Italy. A brief overview will indicate the significance of this volume's new material. 3

Pontecagnano has been known since excavations in the 19th century, and a long term project was begun by Sestieri in 1959, and continued by the Università degli Studi di Napoli "L'Orientale." There are two distinct and important elements; the settlement was located in early geophysical investigation by the Fondazione Lerici in 1978-9, and has been the subject of an important Danish publication of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. 4 The other is the sequence of necropoleis from the early Iron Age to the Hellenistic period, which have yielded well over 7,500 tombs.

Pontecagnano is the northern angle of the broad alluvial plain of the river Sele, which is itself traversed by other rivers. The northernmost is the Picentino, and Pontecagnano occupies a plateau just south of the river, beneath the rising hills inland, the coastal plain, and palaeochannels to the southwest. The relationship of the settlement to the burials from the very beginning implies a degree of planning; and there are even Eneolithic burials in what would later be the key necropoleis of the Iron Age to Archaic periods. 5 The settlement begins to be visible in the Bronze Age, and there is then a gap before the Villanovan period reorganization of the site.

This was a major redevelopment in the early tenth century BC, and is highly similar to the pattern we see in Etruscan settlements such as Veii and elsewhere. There are a number of necropoleis: to the west, the necropoleis at S. Antonio (published by De Natale); and to the east, those closest to the river Picentino, some of which were published by d'Agostino and Gastaldi (Propr. Stanzione, Bisogno, Aedilia). It is one of these eastern necropoleis—at Colucci, the area closest to the river—that is published here. 6

The excavation was conducted between 1992 and 1993. It was a complicated excavation, made just before modern building works in an area that had previously been disturbed by an early 19th-century aqueduct. The first discovery was 85 tombs from the second to fourth century AD. 7 There are a handful of fourth century BC tombs, to the east of the others but at the same level, and a single Orientalising tomb (T6503), from the early seventh century BC, which is published as an appendix by Pellegrino.

But the most important group of burials, the focus of this monograph, belongs to the 9th-8th c. BC. There are about eighty tombs in all from the ninth century (Phase I) into the early eighth (Phase IIA). The deepest ones, a ricettacolo, are the most common, and also quite monumental in their construction and surface covering, which consists of a circle of stones; the other tombs are a cassa and a pozzo. These are all cremations; there are also 34 tombs a fossa, of which 17 have yielded analysable bones. The funerary vessels here are usually at the feet of the deceased.

The larger part of the volume is a catalogue, first by types, to be used alongside the enormously helpful Dizionario published in 2016, which includes this material. 8 Of the impasto, one element of interest is the so-called 'elmi' which cover all the biconical urns in the male cremations, and which sometimes have inscribed decoration or additional modelled figures. There are a few Greek or Greek-influenced objects from the early eighth century, which De Natale notes may reflect the close links between Pontecagnano and the Sibaritide. Fibulae, personal ornaments, razors, and tools (often connected to weaving) are well represented. 12 male tombs contain weaponry. A chapter on chronology (where De Natale has made a huge contribution, including her critical seriation in 1999 9) maintains a relatively traditional absolute chronology, relying on recent accounts, such as short-lived radiocarbon dates from the sites of Lefkandi, Kalapodi and Corinth in Greece. 10 The catalogue of the individual tombs is impeccable and well-illustrated with photographs, and plans at the back of the volume.

In her discussion of the funerary ritual, De Natale begins by noting the closeness of the necropolis to a watercourse, which is analogous to the position of the S. Antonio necropolis near the palaeochannels, perhaps increasing a sense of marginality with respect to living and productive areas. She notes the specifically Campanian cremation a ricettacolo. There are three cenotaphs (burials without human remains). Male cremations continue into the eighth century, after the female cremations cease. As usual, the inhumation are slightly later. Taken as a whole, 66% of the identifiable burials are adult and 34% infants and babies. De Natale follows the standard argument that these represent extended families, and she identifies three slightly divergent groups. For instance, the western group seems to be characterised by females surrounded by infant and baby burials, as suggested also by de Natale in the case of S. Antonio.

The volume concludes with the results of the analysis of the human and animal bones (Sperduti, D'Innocenzo, Di Nicolò, and Vaccaro for the first and Fiore for the second). The most important methodological conclusion for the human bones is the possibility of extracting information even from cremations, partly due to new advances and partly perhaps because at Pontecagnano, cremation temperatures appear not to have been very high (300-700 degrees centigrade). For the animal bones, sheep/goat and pig are most represented, with a young dog in a baby's tomb and a decorated deer's horn.

In this and her previous work on S. Antonio, De Natale has given us the material which underpins a remarkably detailed picture of Pontecagnano on the verge of the Orientalising period. The Picentino necropolis draws to a close in the mid-eighth century, while Pontecagnano sees another change, with probable increased water management, and new necropoleis arise closer to the settlement, with wealthier tombs. Exploitation of the land around Pontecagnano and up the Picentino increases – and at some stage in the eighth century, a road is driven across the Colucci necropolis.11 We are glimpsing, through De Natale's painstaking and elegant volume, an innovative and fascinating group of people who create the preconditions for the utterly changed world which develops in the middle to late eighth century. Pontecagnano is now one of the absolutely critical sites for our understanding of the early Iron Age in Campania.


1.   The other volumes are: C. Pellegrino, A. Rossi, Pontecagnano I.1, Città e campagna nell'Agro Picentino. (Gli scavi dell'autostrada 2001-2006) (Fisciano, 2011); B. d'Agostino, P. Gastaldi, Pontecagnano II.1, La necropoli del Picentino. 1, Le tombe della Prima Età del Ferro (Naples, 1988); S. De Natale, Pontecagnano II.2, La necropoli di S. Antonio: Propr. ECI. 2, Tombe della Prima Età del Ferro (Naples, 1992); A. Serritella, Pontecagnano II.3, Le nuove aree di necropoli del IV e III Sec. a.C. (Naples, 1995); P. Gastaldi, Pontecagnano II. 4, La necropoli del Pagliarone (Naples, 1998); G. Bailo Modesti, A. Salerno, Pontecagnano II.5, La necropoli eneolitica. L'età del Rame in Campania nei villaggi dei morti (Naples 1998); T. E. Cinquantaquattro, Pontecagnano II.6, L'Agro Picentino e la necropoli di località Casella (Naples, 2001); P. Gastaldi, Pontecagnano III.1, Dizionario della cultura materiale, Fascicolo 1 La prima Età del Ferro (Salerno, 2016). In addition, see B. d'Agostino, Tombe "principesche" dell'orientalizzante antico da Pontecagnano, MonAL. XLIX, Ser. misc. II, 1 (Rome, 1977); M. Cuozzo, Reinventando la tradizione: immaginario sociale, ideologie e rappresentazione nelle necropoli orientalizzanti di Pontecagnano (Paestum, 2003); L. Cerchiai, P. Gastaldi (eds.) Pontecagnano: La città, il paesaggio e la dimensione simbolica AIONrchStAnt 11-12 (2004-5); A. Serritella, Un nucleo di tombe armati tra IV e III sec. a.C. a Pontecagnano (Salerno 2013).
2.   G. T. Sciarelli et al. (eds.), Parco archeologico di Pontecagnano: Recupero di un ambiente urbano (Naples, 1993).
3.   See also B. d'Agostino, 'Gli Etruschi e gli altri nella Campania settentrionale', in Gli Etruschi e la Campania settentrionale, Convegno di Studi Etruschi ed Italici 26 (Pisa, 2011), 69-91.
4.   B. Tang (ed.) Hellenistic and Roman Pontecagnano: The Danish Excavations (Naples, 2007).
5.   Bailo Modesti, Salerno, Pontecagnano II.5 (n.1).
6.   De Natale, Pontecagnano II.2; D'Agostino, Gastaldi, Pontecagnano II.1 (n.1).
7.   Published by M. Giglio, 'L'occupazione dell'Ager Picentinus in epoca imperiale alla luce dei nuovi dati dalla necropoli Colucci', AIONArchStAnt N. S. 11-12 (2004-2005), 301-349, suggesting that it belongs to a small settlement with some productive industry, including glass, and relating to the crossing of the river on the on hand and the coastal villas on the other, the area being now characterised not by a major settlement but a series of much smaller vici, with Salerno as the major administrative centre.
8.   Gastaldi, Pontecagnano III.I (n.1).
9.   G. Bailo Modesti, P. Gastaldi (eds.) Prima di Pithecusa: I più antichi materiali greci del golfo di Salerno, catalogo della mostra, 29 aprile 1999, Pontecagnano Faiano, Museo nazionale dell'Agro Picentino Naples 1999, 77-83.
10.   M.B. Toffolo, A. Fantalkin, I. S. Lemos, R.C.S. Felsch, W-D. Niemeier, G.D.R. Sanders, et al. (2013) 'Towards an Absolute Chronology for the Aegean Iron Age: New Radiocarbon Dates from Lefkandi, Kalapodi and Corinth', PLoS ONE 8(12): e83117.
11.   d'Agostino 1977 (n.1) for the tombs; Cinquantaquattro Pontecagnano II.6, 79-130 (n.1) for the territory; for the road see De Natale, p.13.

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