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The Palaeolithic

From the Lower Palaeolithic Era onwards and for the whole Prehistory the majority of the archaeological finds from the Veneto region, and the more significant archaeological sites, are concentrated on the Monti Berici e Lessini. Because of the environmental characteristics of this territory, rich in caves and rock shelters, archaeologists have discovered many finds. Some of them are very famous in the specialist literature because of their ancient stratigraphies that have made the Veneto pre-Alps the area best documented with respect to Italian prehistory.
Around 1, 5 millions of years ago in Europe, Homo erectus makes his first appearance. His presence is intermittently attested in the Italic area from about one million years ago, and becomes stable from about 600.000-500.000 years ago. Veneto presents the first testimony of him in the middle of the Lower Palaeolithic Era, between 500.000 and 300.000 years ago and the Homo erectus continues to live there up to 120.000 years ago. On the basis of comparison with archaeological data belonging to sites located outside Veneto , Homo erectus should have lived in small nomadic groups in the open air or under the shelter of rocks. They gathered vegetables, fished and hunted big animals. They were also able to work stones and bones. We find traces of these activities mainly in the Monti Lessini, where at some archaeological sites several stone tools have been recovered.

The fragmentary data from the Lower Palaeolithic Era becomes more consistent from the Middle Palaeolithic Era (120.000-40.000 years ago); in this period Europe and the Near East became populated by Neanderthal Man and the first Homo sapiens, who invented more complex techniques, had more sophisticated habits and produced the earliest traces of spiritual manifestations. In Veneto there are several sites belonging to this phase, some of them are characterised by articulated and precious stratigraphic sequences. These are essentially caves and shelters under rocks, concentrated on the Monti Berici e Lessini. The finds display a homogeneous culture in the whole Padan valley during the Neanderthal period, during which they also hunted middle sized animals , bears and mammoths.

From 40.000-35.000 years ago ( Upper Palaeolithic Era) a more modern human being (Homo sapiens sapiens) populates Italy and Veneto, taking the place of Neanderthal Man. In the region there are only a few attestations concerning the more ancient phases of this era, while the later period is very well documented. This period goes from 14.000 to 10.000 years ago. At that time, people also started to populate sites in the open air and in the mountains, where they went during the summer to hunt. Still in this period, we have the earliest attestations of spiritual beliefs such as artistic objects, figurative graffiti and geometric compositions on small rocks, pebbles and bones. In the Riparo Tagliente the most ancient burial site has been found dating from this time.

The Mesolithic

The cultural and economic evolution, which started during the latest Upper Palaeolithic Era, reaches its full maturation in the Mesolithic period dominated by hunter-gatherers (9000-5500 BC). The North – East of Italy offers huge documentation of this period and in the Veneto-Trentine area there are many archaeological sites displaying manufactured products of tiny dimension, suitable for building complex tools such as axes and weapons such as bows and arrows. At that time, Man, almost sedentary, begins to inhabit and exploit a bigger and bigger variety of locations and, indeed we have found finds in both valleys and mountains, even at very high altitudes. For example, in the Dolomites of Belluno the site of Mondeval de Sora is very noteworthy, where a burial site with a rich trousseau has been recovered and this has provided very important information on the Mesolithic hunters’ life style.

The Neolithic and the Eneolithic

In the Neolithic Era, which in Northern Italy is dated between 5500 and 3300, we have the change from a hunter-gatherer economy to agricultural and breeding production. Men introduce polished stone and ceramic objects. In the Neolithic Era a radical change is demonstrated in the life style of humankind, but it does not seem to have taken place in a traumatic way. This process was internal to the members affiliated to the same groups that developed progressively into farmers and breeders. The influence exercised over the Veneto people by groups settled at the borders of the region and also in more distant areas such as France and Liguria. However, the finds that relate to this period are few and are distributed in a non-homogeneous way. They are located mainly around the city of Verona, in the Monti Lessini and in the Beric-Euganeo district. At the more important sites there are traces of huts and housing structures, mostly located in wet areas and along lake basins.
The archaeological frame is still very fragmentary for the Copper age (Eneolithic Era , 3300-2300 BC). This era is characterized by the introduction and diffusion of the first metal objects in Europe. Some finds in Val Senales (BZ) belonging to Similaun man have recently helped us learn a bit more about this period. The Veneto areas in which finds of the Copper Age have been found are the same areas from which those concerned with the Neolithic Era came. However, a reduction in the number of settlements has been registered. Analogously, the Veneto culture of this phase does not show much advancement, with the solo exception of the burial and sacral area of Sovizzo next to Vicenza. By contrast, in neighbouring areas we have evidence of many sophisticated socio-cultural systems such as the earliest big burial areas in Emilia and Lombardia. Moreover, these areas display a new form of communication through images. Nevertheless, a relevant distribution of burial sites offers evidence of an increment in the number of the local communities in Veneto from the Late Neolithic Era to the entire Copper Age. In the mountains, especially near Verona, there are several collective burial sites; while in the pre-alpine area and in the Beric mountains there are sepulchral shelters.

Il testo e le immagini (con referenze fotografiche) sono tratti da:
J. Bonetto, I. Venturini, L. Zaghetto, Veneto, Archeologia delle Regioni d’Italia, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Roma 2009.