the late mousterian of the grotta breuil (monte


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In the presented paper, old and new perspectives for a late Mousterian deposit found in Grotta Breuil (Breuil Cave, Monte Circeo, central-western Italian coast) will be shown. The site has been excavated for several years (from 1985 to 1998), under the direction of Professor Amilcare Bietti (Rome University).

The Mousterian lithic industries of the Italian Tyrrhenian central region have traditionally been called Pontinian (from Agro Pontino Plain) (Blanc 1937; Blanc and Segre 1953; Lai Pannocchia 1950; Taschini 1972; Tozzi 1970). The Pontinian has been typologically attributed to a Quina Mousterian, due to a mar-ked abundance of side scrapers (up to about 80% in some sites) and very low Levallois indexes (Taschini 1979). The main technical feature of the Pontinian is the exploitation of local raw material characterized by small rounded fl int pebbles. The pebbles have been most probably brought in to the Pontinian Plain by the Tevere, Aniene, and other local rivers from the Apennines Mountains and were available in conglomerates in the beach and/or river deposits, clearly exposed by erosion during the early stages of Weichselian glaciation (OIS 42).


The Grotta Breuil is one of the caves in Monte Circeo (Fig. 1), a promontory rising to a maximum height of 541 m a.s.l. The cave opens directly to the sea and faces the west. From an archaeological standpoint, the cave was discovered in 1936 by some Italian scholars, as A.C. Blanc, together with H. Breuil, after whom the site was named (Bietti et al. 1998; Blanc 19381939; Taschini 1970).

1 Lab. di Preistoria B. Bagolini, Universit di Trento, Italia; Stefano Grimaldi, e-mail: [email protected].

2 Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana; Enza Spinapolice, e-mail: [email protected].

ACTA UNIVERSITATIS WRATISLAVIENSIS No 3207Wrocaw 2010Studia Archeologiczne XLI

2 Stefano Grimaldi, Enza Spinapolice

Until recently, the Grotta Breuils inaccessibility limited archaeological in-vestigations: systematic excavation started only in 1986 after an exploratory sur-vey in the previous year.

The site is a large, oval cave where most of the original deposit was de-stroyed by marine transgressions: the residual deposit is located in the inner part of the cave, where the excavating surface is about 20 square meters (Bietti et al. 199091).

Deposit is made of six archaeological layers, all of them very rich in lithic in-dustry and faunal remains, divided into two sequences, the most recent upper layers (3 to 6) and the most ancient lower ones (7 and 8). The nature of this division is not due to sedimentological differences; in fact, the nature of sediment varies from heavily concreted stalagmite layers to loose soil matrix: detailed sedimentologi-cal and geochemical analysis are still in progress. On the contrary, the distinction between upper and lower layers is due to a remarkable archaeological variability in both lithic and faunal remains suggesting adaptive changes in the Neanderthal settlement pattern, as we will see further.

Faunal assemblage includes macromammal remains as Cervus elaphus, Bos primigenius, Equus caballus, Equus hydruntinus, Dama dama, Capra ibex, Capreoulus capreolus and Sus scrofa. Red deer is the most frequent species, while carnivores are very little represented confi rming the assiduous human presence

Fig. 1. Localisation of Mount Circeo

The Late Mousterian of the Grotta Breuil 3

in the cave (Stiner 1994). Moreover, taphonomic analysis shows that most of the faunal remains, in different layers, were brought into the cave by humans: in fact, data on ungulate mortality indicates a selective exploitation of the prime adults that involve effi cient hunting strategies. Mammals and carnivores frequencies does not vary a lot in different layers: exceptions are represented by layer 3, where carnivores are more abundant, and layer 7, where an exceptional abundance of red deer remains is observed (Alhaique et al. 1998). Concerning site seasonality, mammal dental growth rates suggest the main occupation from autumn to spring, even if some layers layer 3 in particular seem to show different patterns (Al-haique and Tagliacozzo 2000).

Few Neanderthal bones have been found in the cave: two posterior-lower portion of parietal (one of them still unpublished) and two third molars belonging to two different individuals, an adult and an approximately 13 years old juvenile, respectively (Manzi and Passarello 1995).

Several dates have been obtained. The fi rst ESR date is of 36 600 2700 ka BP for upper layers of the deposit (layers 36, Schwarcz et al. 199091); layers 47 provided a date of 33 000 4000 BP with the same method (Alhaique et al. 1998). Recently, layer 5 have been dated to about 35 000 BP (AMS uncalibrated date, still unpublished). These dates point to Grotta Breuil as one of the latest Ne-anderthal occupations in Italy.

More or less at the same age, the Aurignacian culture appeared in northern Italy, such as at Riparo Mochi (Ventimiglia) (Alhaique et al. 2000) and at Riparo Fumane (Verona) (Peresani and Tagliacozzo 2002).


A former interpretation of the archaeological evidence from the Grotta Breuil has been provided several years ago. Faunal and lithic remains have been thought to represent the leftovers of Neanderthals who where constantly using the inner part of the cave as trash deposit. Currently, this hypothesis should be discarded. Old and new lithic analyses such as refi ttings, spatial distribution, presence/ab-sence of anvil percussion, reduction sequences allow us to interpret the inner deposit of the Breuil cave as a very rich palimpsest formed by several human frequentations which occurred throughout the millennia. Thus, the functionality of the site, that is to say, the inner part of the cave in which no evident struc-ture has been found, such as fi replaces, though evidence of fi re use in the cave is present (charcoal, burned lithic and faunal remains) may have been changing according to differences in settlement and/or mobility dynamics. In this work we discuss evidence of these differences, which are mainly linked to technical characteristics of the Grotta Breuil lithic industry. Just to mention it, also the typological features show the same pattern: upper layers are mainly character-

4 Stefano Grimaldi, Enza Spinapolice

ized by a striking decrease of retouched blanks percentages (Table 1), confi rming a possible change in cave utilization. Typological frequencies, on the other hand, do not vary considerably among different layers: scrapers are largely dominant and other common types are notches and denticulates.

Table 1. Grotta Breuil: typological categories of tools

Types Layer 8 Layer 7 Layer 6 Total

Points 0 1 0 1Scrapers 109 61 45 215End Scrapers 6 3 0 9Notches 6 8 2 16Denticulates 10 11 5 26Drills 0 1 0 1Retouched fl akes 24 14 5 43Chopping tools 2 1 0 3Retouched points 0 1 0 1Total 157 101 57 315


Forty-eight items have been refi tted for a total of 23 refi ttings (Fig. 2). Only 15 of them are related to plotted items. Refi tting analysis has been carried out only for layers 68. Distances and depths are perfectly coherent with the stratigraphic sequence. To our knowledge and at the time of this writing, these are the only refi t-tings known for the Pontinian lithic industries.

The excellent degree of conservation of the deposit is showed by refi tting distances, since many broken pieces have been found in a very close position (for instance, refi ttings nos. 1 and 4 in Fig. 2). Moreover, many broken pieces have been exploited after the breaking, continuing the reduction sequence from the broken core or retouching a half blank. The areas of production and discard are, therefore, su-perposed and this clearly shows a possible multiple use of the inner part of the cave.

Furthermore, the deepness of the distance between the refi tted items is unim-portant for most refi ttings: in fact, it varies from 0 to 16 cm, with the exception of two refi ttings, whose greater distance may be attributed to the inclination of the deposit, as shows the refi tting no. 5 coming from two squares situated along the N/S slope.

Finally, refi ttings allow us to infer both on the utilization of the cave and on lithic technology, illustrating some employed techniques, such as anvil percussion (for instance, refi tting no. 5 in Fig. 2) and some patterns of reuse and items main-tenance (for instance, refi tting no. 2 in Fig. 2).

The Late Mousterian of the Grotta Breuil 5


Faunal and lithic spatial distributions also suggest the daily use of the inner part of the cave by Neanderthals.

All the items found during the excavation were plotted using a software (Surfer 8) creating surface maps and profi les plotting (Spinapolice 2006). Con-cerning lithic and faunal remains, no signifi cant concentration have been identi-fi ed in layer 6 (Fig. 3a and 3b): this could be mainly related to the presence of a very rich layer. On the other hand, in layer 7, items plotting shows the presence of two spatially differentiated concentrations (Fig. 3c and 3d).

This indicates merely an outline and it is not possible at the moment to make clear statements about the presence of distinct areas of activity, because of the thickness of the layer and the important number of items superposed, but a hypothesis about activities executed at different times in this part of the cave is completely rentable. More detailed analysis is still in progress.

Fig. 2. Grotta Breuil: refi ttings

6 Stefano Grimaldi, Enza Spinapolice


The evidence of anvil percussion represents another feature allowing us to confi rm the hypothesis of the behavioural changes occurring between lower and upper layers of Grotta Breuil. This evidence, already observed in various Mouste-rian sites of Mount Circeo, such as the Guattari and Fossellone Caves, has been recognized only in the lower layers of the Breuil Cave.

A series of diagnostic features have been established through an experimental procedure carried out by the authors for this purpose (Bietti et al., in press). Anvil percussion shows a decreasing incidence from layer 8 to layer 6 (Fig. 4). Upper layers lithics do not seem to be characterized by the presence of anvil percussion: recent observations seem to confi rm its scarcity in layers 5 and 4, and its absence in layer 3. The disappearing of anvil percussion is marking a chronological trend only during the fi nal Mousterian of the Grotta Breuil: other Mousterian sites, as well as later Upper Palaeolithic sites of this region, are characterized by the pres-ence of this technique at different stages of reduction sequence. It is worth men-

Fig. 3. Grotta Breuil: plotted items of layer 6 (A: faunal remains; B: lithics) and layer 7 (C: faunal remains; D: lithics)

The Late Mousterian of the Grotta Breuil 7

tioning that a great technical variability in the way anvil percussion is employed in these sites may be observed (Bietti et al., in press). Thus, the decreasing relevance of the employment of anvil percussion in the Middle Palaeolithic layers can be considered as one of the features marking adaptive change in the Grotta Breuil.


Upper and lower layers of the Grotta Breuil are characterized by two different reduction sequences (Bietti and Grimaldi 1996; Rossetti and Zanzi 199091) and they may be summed up as follows.

Fig. 4. Grotta Breuil: the presence of anvil percussion (layer 6, top; layer 7, middle; layer 8, bottom)

8 Stefano Grimaldi, Enza Spinapolice

The reduction sequence of the lower layers (Fig. 5) represents a continuous debitage process that starts from a unidirectional debitage method and, through different crossed-striking platform cores, ends with the centripetal debitage one. This method may be distinguished directly from the beginning of the sequence as well, and it may depend on the original pebble morphology or from a half pebble obtained by anvil percussion. Recent experimental analysis demonstrated that in lower layers, anvil percussion has been used as a possible way to open the peb-ble, making two half-pebbles, thus initializing reduction sequence (Bietti et al. in press). On the other side, upper layers reduction sequence (Fig. 6) is more related to unidirectional method: here centripetal and transitional (proto-centripetal) cores are only marginal types and anvil percussion, if present, is not signifi cant.

Fig. 5. Grotta Breuil: reduction sequence of the lower layers

The Late Mousterian of the Grotta Breuil 9


The evidence from the Grotta Breuil summarized here will be intensively discussed in a monograph which is still in preparation. We tentatively attribute this evidence to different adaptive answers elaborated by Neanderthals through the millennia. These adaptations in various phases of occupation mean choices in the methods of debitage and ways of site and land occupation. The produc-tion of performing cutting edges from a small raw material, and the effort to produce a high number of blanks from a single pebble are an important part of these choices. The observed variations in the occupation pattern of the cave, as emerged by the analyses of the whole system of data, could be related to the nature of Neanderthals settlement system in Agro Pontino. It is consistent to propose, for this variation, important changes in residential pattern related to season, duration, group composition and number, and even purpose of the occu-pation. The integration of faunal and sedimentological data will help us to com-plete this analysis which shows, by now, complexity of Neanderthals economic and behavioural choices along the millennia that preceded the extinction of this species.

Fig. 6. Grotta Breuil: reduction sequence of the upper layers

10 Stefano Grimaldi, Enza Spinapolice


The authors are grateful to several colleagues for their useful comments. We would like to dedicate this work to Amilcare Bietti, a year after his death. We always remember the discussions we had with him, his knowledge, his emotions and his ideas which make us admire him as a man and as a profes-sional.


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Alhaique, F. et al. 1998. Settlement patterns and subsistence strategies in the late Mousterian site of Grotta Breuil (Italy). XIII U.I.S.P.P. Congress Proceedings Forli, 814 September 1996, Vol. 6 (I), 221228. Forl: ABACO.

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chronologique du Pontinien. Quaternaria Nova XXI, 179247.Tozzi, C. 1970. La Grotta di S. Agostino. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche XXV(1), 387.

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