New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio


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A ceremonial square, numerous tombs including that of a child, the discovery of olives as offerings to accompany the journey to the afterlife. These are some of the discoveries of the first campaign of archaeological research carried out in the Messapian necropolis of Monte d’Elia in Alezio, conducted by the Laboratory of Classical Archaeology of the University of Salento under the direction of Professor Giovanni Mastronuzzi. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Excavations the Messapian necropolis of Monte d’Elia in Alezio
[Credit: Il Gallo]

The excavations have been concluded in the last few days and now the analysis of the finds is being carried out by a team made up of the researchers of the CNR – ISPC Ivan Ferrari and Francesco Giuri, the professional archaeologists trained at UniSalento Patricia Caprino and Francesco Solinas and the students of the Master’s degree course in Archaeology Irina Bykova and Elisa Lauri. 

The investigations take place under a ministerial concession MIBACT (DG ABAP 1023 of 2019) and in agreement with the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the provinces of Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto, with the economic contribution of the Municipality of Alezio and the University.

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Child’s grave and secondary depositions [Credit: Il Gallo]

“During a few weeks of research, new fundamental data for the study of the Messapic civilization have emerged, first of all through the topographical reconstruction of the area of Monte d’Elia and the recognition of the funerary rituals practiced there in ancient times”, explains Mastronuzzi, 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Detail of the grave kit of the child [Credit: Il Gallo]

“Some excavation trials have allowed us to recover information on the morphology of the area, that is, on the course of the hill that hosts the necropolis of Alezio, from which one can see the sea on one side and the ancient Messapic settlement on the other. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Deposition with lekythos [Credit: Il Gallo]

“Of great importance is the identification of a large ceremonial square around which, within enclosures built with large boulders, were concentrated groups of tombs belonging to families or clans. It constituted the point of arrival of the processions that accompanied the deceased in the last journey from the house to the place of burial. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Secondary deposition near the tomb [Credit: Il Gallo]

“Elements of greater detail come from the excavation of burials that were not detected during the investigations of the eighties by the Archaeological Superintendence of Puglia. In fact, a pit was identified, with a floor made of limestone blocks and a frame made of Carparo stone, inside which the remains of at least 12 individuals were accumulated. An ossuary, in short, connected to the functioning of the necropolis and to the practice of reusing the funerary structures for successive interments. 

“We found some objects that belonged to the grave goods: an oil lamp, a plate, a “trozzella” (typical vase of the Messapian civilization), two loom weights and a javelin tip. With some of these objects the sex of the deceased was identified during the burial ceremony (the “trozzella” for women, the weapons for men), and could indicate rank and role held in life. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Ossuary being excavated [Credit: Il Gallo]

“Another very important discovery is that of the tomb of a child, buried in a small sarcophagus with some grave goods: a wine glass (skyphos), an amphora, a rattle and an astragal which served as toys, and also a ‘strigil’. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Ossuary after excavation [Credit: Il Gallo]

“The latter is an element that distinguishes athletes, and may therefore be a gift that emphasizes the failure to reach adulthood. Around the tombs there are also numerous secondary depositions: the remains of inhumations previously placed inside sarcophagi were removed and moved to accommodate new interments. 

New discoveries on the Messapic civilization in Alezio
Micro excavation in the laboratory [Credit: Il Gallo]

“The bones and personal ornaments, such as rings and brooches, were religiously collected and placed in the immediate vicinity of the tombs. A data of extraordinary importance is, finally, represented by the discovery of olives, as food offerings intended to accompany the journey to the afterlife.

“Currently, the restoration and study of the finds, artefacts and bio-archaeological finds have been started; these activities will continue in the coming months in parallel with the preparation of the excavation documentation. 

“Based on the findings, it will be possible to plan a new research campaign in the field, to be carried out starting from next spring in agreement with the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the Provinces of Brindisi and Lecce (responsible officer Dr. Serena Strafella).”

Source: Il Gallo [trsl. TANN, February 21; first published January 07, 2021]

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