Chapter I - Prehistoric Man in Abruzzo

«There is no doubt about the existence of prehistoric man in the first period of the quaternary* age (Note of Translator: The Quaternary is the most recent of the three Cenozoic periods in the ICS geologic time scale.). Surely man witnessed the majestic progress of glaciers; but maybe his appearance is more ancient and might go back to the tertiary age.»

From Enrico Abbate's "Guida d'Abruzzo", Rome 1903.

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From many discoveries it seems that man lived all over Europe fighting for his space in nature. Stone findings from the period, the manufacts of these primitive men, have been unearthed along with bones of now extinct animal species, and such findings allow us to establish the places and the periods of our earliest ancestors. There is no trace in Abruzzo of palafittes* (Note of Translator: actually palafittes have been recently found in the area of the former Lake Fucino), among the most important of prehistoric monuments, because of the nature of the territory ; however, many lithologic findings show that Abruzzo was inhabited by man in prehistoric times.

Prehistory is divided into four different time periods, which are together known as archeolitic, when man was a witness to all the stages of the glacier age and a contemporary to the the cave bear (Ursus Spelaeus), mammooth (Elephas Primigenius), rhinoceros (Rhinoceros Thichorinus) and bison (Bison Europaeus), animals which, when the glacial age was over, either migrated elsewhere or became extinct.

In this first period man, who had not yet discovered metals, made utensils with materials he had nearby and used stones and especially flints, since they were the hardest and, thanks to their shape, the best to make sharp tools. In the Vibrata Valley, south of Civitella del Tronto, a great number of such tools, typical of prehistoric industry, were found and described extensively by Concezio Rosa (Note of Translator: Dr Rosa was a precursor of modern paleontology, collecting during his research in the area of Corropoli about 20,000 Paleolithic and Neolithic artifacts, tracing a map of the earliest human settlements in the Abruzzi. In 1865 he discovered at Ripoli, Val Vibrata, an entire Neolithic village of huts, from which the eponymous "Ripoli culture".).

The mountain range to which the Montagna dei Fiori belongs, supplied the right stones; in the limestone, of which the range is formed, there were large siliceous veins from which axes, arrows and knives were made; from the cretaceous sandstones, which are found in the Vomano valley, man made the stones for his fireplace and other tools. The main sites where such findings are recorded are San Giuseppe, Ravigliano and Gabbiano, in the municipality of Corropoli (Vibrata valley), where Dr. Rosa found flat, oval axes, other larger triangular axes, whitish flint knives, very primitive battle-axes, which were probably used to beat, by hand, arrows made with pieces of grey piromaca, which were then finished to make the point sharp and to give them an oval, long shape, useful for knives and cutting tools.

These tools belong to the earliest archeolithic period, a time to which therefore the existence of prehistoric man in the Vibrata valley can be dated. It is certain that among the migratory tribes coming from Central Asia before the glacial period, many moved west and reached Eastern Europe, where they proceeded in different directions; some tribes followed the Danube valley, others went south leaving the Alps to their right, continued towards the Danube countries and, from there, followed the northern Adriatic coast and settled in the large Po valley. The Apennines, little affected by the climate of the glacial period, and the whole region of Abruzzo, which had very recently surfaced from the wide tertiary sea, offered an easy, pleasant life; these tribes found all the necessary land attributes to spread all over the coastline and at the mouths of the large rivers, which were at that time much wider than now. These tribes probably settled in different places and, whenever the population grew, some groups moved upstream along the river banks towards the mountains and occupied the valleys.

In the Vibrata valley the first settlers found very favorable conditions: virgin fertile lands, temperate climate, moist atmospheric conditions; they built battle-axes, arrow points and other tools, living at first without permanent homes or just in simple leaf huts. But when the snows and the glacial period began, they, who did not yet know the art of constructing homes, took refuge in the many caves available in the mountains of Civitella and Montagna dei Fiori, caves from which they expelled bears and hyenas. Dr Rosa found 45 of these caves in that area of Abruzzo. Most of these caves look to the south, very few to the north; in the latter there are no traces of prehistoric man, while in the former many artifacts witness his presence.

Also in later periods caves continued to offer shelter to man, and were still used as living places in the metal age, and, when agricolture developed, they became the refuge of shepherds up to the present age. Some of this caves were also used in Christian times by hermits. The stone age objects found in these caves are better finished than those unearthed from the ground. Along with primitive axes, also pointed tools and grating tools were found, which were used to make clothes from animal skins as protection against the cold.

But though also in our region there was a progress of glaciers, it is difficult to establish the ages that are generally used to divide the archeolithic period, because, thanks to the special positions, it was possible for man to go on living here. The objects found show a progress in prehistoric industry, thanks to the introduction of such new materials as bone and horn, which are however found in very limited amounts because they degrade more easily than stone tools. Most of these objects have been found in caves, which shows that also in the third period of the archeolitic age man continued to live in caves, and still lived there in the following period, since also ornaments typical of the last period have been found there.

In the Vibrata valley also fragments of primitive kitchen tools have been found, which shows that prehistoric man here worked clay, first baking it under the sun, then in the fire. There are also traces of the neolithic period in the caves of Salomone and Sant'Angelo, such as bone tools and refined kitchen tools. In that period man left the caves and started to build his home in the open air; such homes were found by Dr Rosa on hills in the Vibrata valley. This shows that, after leaving the caves, those men did not go down to the valley bottoms, which were still covered by water, and chose instead the summits and built their huts among the hills of Corropoli, Controguerra and Colonnella; doctor Rosa found 203 such huts, and on their floors the remains of the cooking activities and the tools used in the kitchen.

No metals had yet been discovered, and man continued to use stone to make his his tools; but the objects show a more refined working; primitive axes disappear and there are smooth axes, decorated graters and pointers, and also shells with holes obviously used as pendants. There are also saws and hammers, weapons, fishing tools, arrow points in many shapes (oval, triangular, moon-shaped), javelins and sling stones, as well as many clay tools made with dark or black paste, composed of clay with the addition of sand and quartz, high vases, bowls and large flat-bottomed pots with the borders turned outward and handles made from an addition of the same material, or rounded with holes.

In no object there are traces of drawings as elsewhere in Europe, maybe other supports - e.g. bone or wood - were chosen, which decay more easily. The abundance of weapons found in many of the above places, and their good conditions, led scholars to believe that such a great quantity exceeded the requirements of the community pointing towards the existence of some form of trade or exchange with nearby tribes. Apart from the Belvedere village, Dr Rosa found 11 more such 'workshops', which supplied a large quantity of very small weapons.

The archeological monuments of the archeolithic and neolithic periods are very rare, because it was easy for subsequent generations to destroy them; but there is no doubt that the whole Abruzzi region, not only the Vibrata valley, was inhabited by prehistoric man. Here and there other settlements have been recorded, though no studies have been made so far. And very little is known of the period that followed, i.e. the metal age, which is important to follow man in his progress and describe his history until the moment when other documents or findings are available. Recent excavations in the Tortoreto area have given traces of the metal civilization in the region, but there are not yet enough elements for a comprehensive study, and we can only hope that other scholars follow the example of Dr. Concezio Rosa."