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Zooarchaeological evidence of functional and social differentiation in northern Italy between the Neolithic and Bronze ages

Tecchiati, U., Salvagno, L., Amato, A., De March, M., Fontana, A., Marconi, S., Rinaldi, G., Zanetti, A.L.
Quaternary international 2019
altitude, cattle, deer, dogs, horses, human communities, pastures, social stratification, transhumance, valleys, wild animals, Italy
Many sites dating from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age have been investigated in northern Italy and have provided important zooarchaeological data. These sites are mostly settlements, but also places of worship and necropoli. While there are few zooarchaeological studies for the north-western part of Italy, the north-east and the Po Valley have been better investigated. Particularly important are the pile-dwellings and the Terramare sites of the Po Valley as they have a long chronological span, the animal bone assemblages are large and, therefore, highly statistically reliable, and have been excavated relatively recently. There is evidence of functional and social differentiation in the Bronze Age which coincided with the evolution of more complex societies. The most common type of functional differentiation began when human communities started to settle and is visible in the zooarchaeological record. Until the end of the Copper Age, animal bone assemblages are characterized by the presence of both domestic animals and a relatively important proportion of wild animals. In the early Bronze Age, domestic animals dominated, if not entirely, the assemblages, and a growing interest in secondary products is evident. From the Middle Bronze Age, the foundation of semi-permanent settlements multiplied in the Alpine area, in the internal areas (secondary valleys and areas far from the main watercourses) and at medium-high altitudes. This was coupled with the seasonal occupation of sites at a high altitude, used for the practice of vertical transhumance (alpine pasture). This phenomenon implies the existence of a settlement hierarchy and, therefore, of forms of social stratification within the framework of the settlement system. Unfortunately, the few zooarchaeological studies of sites located in the Emilia Apennines do not currently allow us to confirm the existence of such links between the mountain sites and those on the plain. Nevertheless, other evidence, such as the introduction of the horse, which is attested from the late Early Bronze Age onwards, can be interpreted as proof of social differentiation; the horse was, in fact, considered a status symbol of the emerging warrior elite.Very few animal burials, dated to the period studied, show the link between animal species (such as dog, cattle, deer) and cultural practices, although a number of examples of such a relationship are provided by the terramare necropoli. In conclusion, in light of current knowledge, it seems that zooarchaeology cannot confirm the existence of important forms of social stratification. This does not mean that they cannot necessarily be postulated: the complex use of territory and the evidently communal nature of funerary and cult ceremonies (which often involved animals) that characterize the Bronze Age make it difficult to exclude the existence of such stratification.