By Jon Morter. Edited by John Robb. Pp. xxvi + 290, numerous b&w and color figs., tables 56, plans 4, maps 7. The University of Texas Press, Austin 2010. $75. ISBN 978-0-292-72276-7 (cloth).
The Chora of Croton 1 stems from Morter’s Ph.D. dissertation, written in 1992 and left unpublished due to the author’s tragic death in 1997. This volume is the first of a series dedicated to the archaeological excavations and surveys that the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin, led by J.C. Carter, carried out in the chora of Croton from 1983 to the present. This volume represents not only a tribute to Morter’s ability to excavate a Neolithic site in southern Italy with expertise and great attention to detail (the author’s apparent overdocumentation greatly helped the manuscript’s reviewers to link the text he wrote with the field data) but it also has the merit of publishing Morter’s work posthumously in a complete, accurate, and updated way. Thanks to Robb’s careful editing, the original manuscript has been brought up-to-date with a commentary and set of annotations, which preserve the integrity of the original text while providing additional evidence taken from more recent excavations. Although it can be distracting at times to go back and forth between the text and the footnotes to see what has been added or modified, these additions do help the reader fully understand how the field of Italian prehistory has developed over the past two decades. Supplementary studies on the geomorphology of the area, faunal analyses, and archaeobotany, along with a catalogue of the ceramic, lithic, and other finds, complete the volume.
Capo Alfiere, located on the Ionian coast of southern Italy near the city of Croton, is one of the very few Neolithic sites in the Calabria region to have been excavated extensively by a team of multidisciplinary specialists who have studied the area’s early habitation phases beginning in the fifth millennium B.C.E. The most remarkable architectural find uncovered during the excavations was a hut protected by two large stone walls, used possibly for ritual or for habitation.
The introduction, written by Robb and Marino, gives a general overview of the text while providing new data on the Neolithic period in Croton, taken from Marino’s ongoing work on sites in the area. The settlement of Capo Alfiere does not appear to be an isolated exception, since terrestrial surveys done in recent years have shown that a remarkable number of Neolithic sites are located in the territory of Croton. The site of Vrica is notable for its high concentration of pottery, lithics, and faunal evidence, and other remains have also been found submerged beneath the sea at Le Castella (where a rectangular structure is visible at 5 m dpth.), in the mountains at Timpa del Gigante, and on the shores of Lake Cecita.
The first and largest section of the book offers a detailed overview of the excavation at Capo Alfiere. After a general review of the cultural and environmental settings of the site—a section that offers a useful introduction to the history and geology of the area—the stratigraphy of the site is analyzed and the architectural and structural features are discussed, along with the ceramic assemblages, stone tools, and organic remains. Two further excavation seasons were carried out in 1987 and 1990. While the main objective of the first excavation season was to recover samples of economic subsistence, such as seeds and faunal remains, the presence of massive and unusually large stone walls, a lot of Stentinello ceramics, and chipped stone convinced the team to conduct a second season of excavation in 1990. Unfortunately, during that campaign it was noticed that the lower portions of the site had been badly damaged by plow works, and the deeper stratigraphic levels had been lost. Petrographic and thin-sections provided evidence that the Stentinello pottery was mostly locally produced, and X-ray fluorescence proved that the obsidian necessary to produce the stone tools had traveled over long distances, in particular from the island of Lipari—confirmation of the maritime trade conducted by the Neolithic societies of the area. Significant objects, such as a vessel with an anthropomorphic decoration and a cache of stone axes, were purposely buried at the site, according to the authors, who also suggest that the place to which these finds were connected had a ritual or social significance, as part of a larger surrounding settlement.
The second and third sections of the book deal in greater detail with the geomorphology, faunal analyses, and archaeobotanical evidence from Capo Alfiere, offering dedicated chapters written by different specialists. While they do not change the conclusions Morter reached in 1992, they do add valuable hard data and additional evidence to support the author’s results. The study of the organic samples found at the site supplies evidence of the crops grown and supports the idea that a large wooded area had already been displaced by the Neolithic inhabitants during clearance of the nearby woodlands.
The catalogue that closes the volume, unfortunately, shows only part of the artifacts found during the excavation, sometimes without associated measurements. However, given the difficult task of reorganizing the excavation archives and extracting the necessary information two decades after fieldwork was completed, all the relevant information has been provided, preserving it for future generations of scholars and archaeologists. Considering how little has been published regarding the archaeology of Croton until very recently, the publication of this book is refreshing, and it is hoped that the second volume of the series will be soon in press.
Dante G. Bartoli
Via F. de Filippi, 5