Intense community dynamics in the pre-Roman frontier site of Fermo (9th–5th century)

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Intense community dynamics in the pre-Roman frontier site of Fermo (ninth–fifth century BCE, Marche, central Italy) inferred from isotopic data


The Early Iron Age in Italy (end of the tenth to the eighth century BCE) was characterized by profound changes which influenced the subsequent political and cultural scenario in the peninsula. At the end of this period people from the eastern Mediterranean (e.g. Phoenicians and Greek people) settled along the Italian, Sardinian and Sicilian coasts. Among local populations, the so-called Villanovan culture group—mainly located on the Tyrrhenian side of central Italy and in the southern Po plain—stood out since the beginning for the extent of their geographical expansion across the peninsula and their leading position in the interaction with diverse groups. The community of Fermo (ninth–fifth century BCE), related to the Villanovan groups but located in the Picene area (Marche), is a model example of these population dynamics. This study integrates archaeological, osteological, carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N) (n = 25 human) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotope data (n = 54 human, n = 11 baseline samples) to explore human mobility through Fermo funerary contexts. The combination of these different sources enabled us to confirm the presence of non-local individuals and gain insight into community connectivity dynamics in Early Iron Age Italian frontier sites. This research contributes to one of the leading historical questions of Italian development in the first millennium BCE.




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" At Misericordia, tombs were 89.5% single, 10.5% double, but collective tombs were not present. At Mossa, tombs were 52.9% single, 20.6% double and 26.5% collective. Moreover, double or collective burials were documented exclusively in the latter two phases, namely from the end of the eighth century BCE. The osteological analysis has estimated the presence of 34 females (F = 26; F(?) = 8), 48 males (M = 38; M(?) = 10), 13 adults of indeterminate sex (IND) and 25 subadults (SA; 0–15 years of age). Subadults include 2 newborn/early infants (NI = 0–1 years of age), 10 young children (YC = 1–5 years of age), 10 older children (OC = 5–10 years of age) and 3 juveniles (J = 10–15 years of age). Sex and age-at-death did not influence the choice of the funerary ritual: individuals of all age classes were cremated or inhumed. The sex ratio (M/F) for cremated individuals is 0.9. By contrast, the M/F ratio is less balanced for inhumed individuals, namely 2.2. The M/F ratio by chronological phase is: Phase A = 0.4; Phase B = 1.6; Phase C = 2.1."

Looks as if they followed the Neolithic pattern of avoidance of marine food, but at least the women ate the same things as the men, unlike the case with all the Langobard sites, even the ones in Hungary.

As to inhumed
[FONT=-apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, Segoe UI, Roboto, Oxygen-Sans, Ubuntu, Cantarell, Helvetica Neue, sans-serif]individuals, "If the wider baseline range (0.7087 to 0.7091) is considered as the most probable interval to identify individuals born locally, regardless of consideration of differential chronology and ritual, the number of non-local individuals at Fermo is 9 (16.7%)"...[/FONT]In any case, the entire range for children (0.70883 to 0.70908) can be assumed as a more parsimonious estimate of the local range. If we adopt this latter as the 87Sr/86Sr baseline at Fermo, the number of non-local individuals rises to 12 (22.2%)."

Among cremated individuals (n = 24), 45.8% are non-local, while 3.3% of the inhumed individuals are allochthonous. Notably, the mobility seems similar among male and female individuals (5 and 6 individuals respectively), thus adding new insight about the biological sex of individuals who moved to Fermo. The sex ratio (Phase A + Phase B) is 1.1, and therefore it does not bias the scoring of mobility by sex.If the samples are considered according to chronological phases (Fig. 6), 3 out of 7 individuals from Phase A are non-local. Even if the small sample number for Phase A requires a cautious approach, a substantial percentage of individuals (42.9%) can be considered non-local. Nine individuals out of 29 from Phase B are non-local, namely 31%. All the individuals from Phase C fall within the children range; hence they can all be considered locals. The 4 individuals with indeterminate chronology are all local."

"Although the present analysis employs a single isotope isoscape24 and the stochastic approach of the method itself, it is worth noting that results fit nicely with the archaeological expectation of the most radiogenic individuals probably originating ca. 180 km away from Fermo within an area that encompasses the original Villanovan area of Etruria."

I find it particularly interesting personally, as some of the possible "home" areas are right up the Magra and across the Apennine and Apuan Alps.

"Moreover, the high percentage of non-locally born individuals, albeit on a small sample, in Phase A is consistent with the archaeological data38; indeed, a rigorous ritual tradition which consists of few grave goods that accompany traditional distinct-neck urns that strictly followed models from Etruria was present at Fermo in the earliest phases. The presence of allochthonous individuals in Phase B adds to the previous archaeological hypothesis19,20,21 that suggests human mobility at Fermo only in the initial phase, namely the ninth century BCE. Finally, the absence of non-local individuals in Phase C is in line with more recent archaeological interpretations, which have shown that Fermo developed its own funerary practice and autonomous tradition in this period, which differs from typical late Villanovan/Etruscan and Picene customs13. A possible reconstructed scenario could be that a group of at least partially non-local individuals who settled at Fermo (Phase A) were followed by other individuals coming from the original homeland (Phase B). Later, this flow of non-local individuals ended (Phase C), and Fermo developed a peculiar local mixed funerary tradition."

Whether this analysis is correct is above my pay grade. :)


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