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Il cosiddetto “Relitto di Pignataro di Fuori” di Lipari: Una revisione del contesto dell’Età del Bronzo a cinquant’anni dalla sua scoperta

Il cosiddetto “Relitto di Pignataro di Fuori” di Lipari: Una revisione del contesto dell’Età del Bronzo a cinquant’anni dalla sua scoperta

By Alba Mazza (Italian Research on Ancient World 6). Rome: Arbor Sapientiae 2019. Pp. 138. €45. ISBN 978-88-94820-79-9 (paper).

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This book is a comprehensive interdisciplinary volume focusing on one of the most controversial, yet interesting, submerged sites of the Mediterranean: a site dated to the Early Bronze Age that was initially interpreted as a shipwreck but later considered a sunken settlement. The scope of the work includes reviewing the criticisms that led to this change of interpretation, plus the author collects and critically analyzes the results of almost 50 years of archaeological research on the site, employing a great quantity and variety of sources while presenting her argument. She undertakes the first comprehensive investigation of the site and its terrestrial surroundings. For example, original and previously unpublished primary sources are included, such as the results from recent underwater archaeological investigations by the Soprintendenza del Mare. Archival records of historical importance pertaining to the history of the local municipality are also presented. Travel accounts and historical narratives have been scrutinized by the author, who identified, collected, and critically analyzed evidence of geographical importance addressing past changes of the coastline. Historical cartography of military precision is included and cross-referenced with a detailed study of geological, geomorphological, and marine geological maps. The author succeeds in incorporating these original sources into the narrative, which, despite their usefulness, have been too often neglected in archaeological research. Data are presented in a clear way, and the archaeological implications are easy to understand even for a nonprofessional reader.

The first chapter presents the scope of the book and introduces the reader to the topic. Chapter 2 describes geographical features of the underwater archaeological context and recounts a detailed history of the scientific investigation of the site, including studies on the materials and geological investigations. Chapter 3 deals with the explanation of the vexata quaestio (shipwreck vs. settlement) and critically presents different interpretations by several scholars, in particular critically revising the major interpretative hypotheses of both E. Ciabatti and L. Bernabò Brea, who interpret the site as a shipwreck, and S. Tusa, who strongly believes the underwater context to be linked to a settlement (Ciabatti, “Note conclusive concernenti lo scavo di un relitto dell’Età del Bronzo nella Baia di Lipari,” in VI Congreso Internacional de Arqueologia Submarina: Cartagena 1982, Subdirección General de Arqueología y Etnografía, Spain, 1985, 303–11; Bernabò Brea, “Relitto della prima Età del Bronzo di Pignataro di Fuori,” in BdA: Archeologia Subaquaea 2, Suppl. 29, 1985, 48–52; Tusa, “Reflections and Hypotheses on Underwater Prehistory in the Central Mediterranean,” in S. Bergerbrant and S. Sabatini, eds., Counterpoint: Essays in Archaeology and Heritage Studies in Honour of Professor Kristian Kristiansen, BAR-IS 2508, 2013, 667–78). The disagreements among the scholars revolve around two main points of view. The scholars interpreting the site as a shipwreck believe that even though timber remains pertaining to the ship are absent, the typology of the pottery, the conservation status of the fragments, and the geographical position of the site suggest the interpretation as a portion of a shipment. On the contrary, scholars who favor interpreting the site as a settlement argue that a combination of environmental and geological factors (e.g., erosion, landslide, submergence) might have produced substantial changes to the coastline. As a result, archaeological materials belonging to a possible land site might have collapsed or sunk. Chapter 4 takes into consideration the material evidence, which consists exclusively of ceramic fragments, and provides a brief summary of the cultural horizon associated with the Pignataro di Fuori site: the Early Bronze Age Capo Graziano I culture, 2300–1750 BCE. Chapter 5 dives into the Early Bronze Age exchange networks around the Aeolian Islands and critically presents archaeological evidence of prehistoric navigation found in the archipelago; for example, incised sherds with boat representations and scenes of navigation found in terrestrial sites contemporary with Pignataro di Fuori are presented. The terrestrial archaeological evidence at Pignataro di Fuori Bay is the focus of chapter 6. Mazza presents topographical features, chronology, and updated interpretations of a series of structures and building remains currently located on shore, the dates of which span from the Roman and Byzantine periods to modern times. Chapter 7 consists of a thorough and updated analysis of the geology and geomorphology of the coast and seabed. In this chapter, historical cartography, travel narrative, and geological and bathymetric maps are analyzed for the first time. Results of this combined analysis show that the coastline of Pignataro di Fuori extended farther into the sea in the past. Chapter 8 presents the author’s conclusions. By now it should be clear to the reader that coastal changes occurred and influenced both the shore and the submerged site. The author suggests a continuation of the archaeological and geological investigation on the site in order to solve the mystery of its interpretation. The volume also includes an appendix, which republishes archaeometric analyses (petrographic study and x-ray diffraction) performed on a selection of ceramic fragments from the site.

Images, plates, and maps are well displayed and satisfactory. Underwater photographs documenting the fieldwork investigations of the 2000s would have been beneficial, though not essential, for a better understanding of the most recent discoveries. The bibliography is exhaustive and updated, though the inclusion of contributions on submerged prehistory (e.g., J. Benjamin and A. Hale, “Marine, Maritime, or Submerged Prehistory? Contextualizing the Prehistoric Underwater Archaeologies of Inland, Coastal, and Offshore Environments,” EJA 15.2, 2012, 237–56) would have better corroborated the theoretical framework of the volume.

Davide Tanasi
University of South Florida 

Book Review of Il cosiddetto “Relitto di Pignataro di Fuori” di Lipari: Una revisione del contesto dell’Età del Bronzo a cinquant’anni dalla sua scoperta, by Alba Mazza 
Reviewed by Davide Tanasi
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 4 (October 2020)
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1244.Tanasi

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