La Marmotta, an ancient lakeshore settlement submerged in Lake Bracciano near Rome, Italy, has captivated underwater archaeologists since its discovery in 1989. Now, archaeologists have located some well-preserved artifacts that shed light and insight into Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, including a settlement from the Early Neolithic Period! This settlement reveals a community engaged in a thriving farming economy, and has been located approximately 300 meters (984 ft) from the modern shoreline.
A Treasure Trove of Artifacts in the depths of Lake Bracciano
Recent excavations have yielded a treasure trove of artifacts, including textiles, basketry, and cordage, shedding light on the technological prowess and craftsmanship of Neolithic societies, as per the study published in the recent edition of Antiquity. All in all, 28 fragments of cord and two lengths of thread have also been identified, in addition to 43 fragments of basketry, some of which still contain food residue.
“The assemblage paints a more complete picture of Neolithic societies’ technological expertise and ability to exploit and process plant materials to produce a diverse range of crafts,” the research team writes in the study. “Archaeological research on Circum-Alpine lake or pile dwellings has provided unprecedented insight into Neolithic and Bronze Age societies,” they added.
Situated in the region of Lazio, Lake Bracciano originated from volcanic and tectonic activity that led to the collapse of a magma chamber, forming the present-day lake. La Marmotta’s origins trace back to the Early Neolithic Period when a settlement was established along the lakeshore. Over time, the lake’s water levels rose, ultimately submerging the settlement at a depth of 11 meters (36 ft), reports Heritage Daily .
Lake Bracciano. (Museo delle Civiltà-Mario Mineo/ Antiquity Publications Ltd )
La Marmotta: A Highly Advanced Farming and Textile Economy
Underwater surveys of La Marmotta have unveiled a remarkable sight—thousands of wooden piles or support posts scattered across the lakebed. The arrangement of these piles reveals a minimum of 13 parallel house structures that once stood on the Neolithic shore. Previous studies have identified remains of domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, and dogs, alongside several wild mammal species including red deer, roe deer, aurochs, and red fox.
Despite ongoing excavations, it is estimated that only around 25 percent of the La Marmotta site has been explored. The remaining archaeological remains hold immense potential for further insights into the lives of its ancient inhabitants. Extensive investigation is required to ascertain the full extent of this settlement, reports Arkeonews. What can be affirmatively ascertained is their ability to process plant materials into a diverse range of crafts.
The team from the University of Copenhagen is currently analyzing the textile fragments discovered at La Marmotta. These fragments, believed to be made from plant fibers, have been identified as flax fibers through a meticulous examination using a binocular microscope. Flax, a widely utilized material for textile production until the 19th century AD, showcases the early mastery of ancient cultures in creating fabrics.
The presence of 78 loom weights, three spindle whorls, and 34 complete or fragmented wooden tools further attests to the ancient art of weaving. These tools played a vital role in tightly packing each new weft thread during the weaving process.
Artifacts from La Marmotta. (Left) Basket with food remains. (Center) Spindle whorls and loom weights (Right) Textile fragments. ( J.F. Gibaja and Museo delle Civiltà-Mario Mineo /Antiquity Publications Ltd )
The excavation at La Marmotta has also yielded a collection of wooden tools associated with weaving, some complete, some fragmented. Some were likely used during the weaving process to ensure the proper insertion and packing of weft threads, and include beaters or battens used to press the weft threads into place and comb-like tools for separating and aligning the warp threads.
Why was La Marmotta abandoned? Some experts believe that a rapid rise in the lake’s water level may have compelled the inhabitants to depart hastily, leaving behind their possessions, including tools, food-preparation vessels, and even canoes. The reasons behind this mass exodus remain a topic of great curiosity for archaeologists and historians.
“The limited extent of the picture that we can usually reconstruct is made clear by the settlement of La Marmotta. Here, the excellent preservation of wooden structures and objects of various perishable materials creates a much fuller understanding of the technical complexity of these early farming societies, perhaps even pointing to the existence of craft specialists,” concluded the authors of the study.
Top image: Underwater excavation of the site of La Marmotta in Lake Bracciano. Source: Museo delle Civiltà-Mario Mineo/ Antiquity Publications Ltd
By Sahir Pandey
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