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Evidence of a short-lived episode of olive (Olea europaea L.) cultivation during the Early Bronze Age in western Mediterranean (southern Italy)

D’Auria, Alessia, Buonincontri, Mauro Paolo, Allevato, Emilia, Saracino, Antonio, Jung, Reinhard, Pacciarelli, Marco, Di Pasquale, Gaetano
Olea europaea, Quercus, archaeobotany, charcoal, coasts, domestication, economic systems, forests, humans, land use, olives, trees, villages, Greece, Italy, Mediterranean region
Anthracological analysis was carried out in the archaeological site of Punta di Zambrone on the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria in southern Italy. Archaeological excavation documented at the site settlement deposits dated mainly to Early Bronze Age (EBA, 21st–18th century BC) and the Recent Bronze Age (RBA, 13th to early 12th century BC). In the phase of the EBA village, the high frequency of Olea europaea in the charcoal data suggests the tree may well have been cultivated by favouring the spread of the scant olive trees growing wild. Comparison with existing archaeobotanical data indicates that olive cultivation spread over a large portion of southern Italy from the EBA and the early Middle Bronze Age (MBA, 17th–15th century BC), thus calling into question the hypothesis of its first cultivation related to the interaction between Mycenaean Greece and local cultures in southern Italy. The early domestication event at Punta di Zambrone supports the idea of multiple independent primary events of olive domestication throughout the Mediterranean basin. In the following phase of the fortified settlement dated to the RBA, the frequency of olive charcoal diminished and the expansion of a more or less dense forest dominated by Quercus was judged to be a consequence of human depopulation that characterises the end of MBA and also a different land use of RBA. This forest increase, also recorded by other archaeobotanical proxies in the central and southern Italian peninsula, is found to be related to the diffusion in southern Calabria of the Subapennine culture, spreading from more northerly areas of Italy and bringing different economic systems and agronomic knowledge. These far-reaching changes appear to have brought to a halt the first event of olive cultivation recorded at Punta di Zambrone.