The three research and excavation campaigns took place in the months of April-May, June and October, each lasting 10-15 days. The investigations concentrated on the underground macro-sectors in the Sala dei Pipistrelli (April-May), the Cunicoli Terminali (June) and the Pregrotta (October) and involved teams of 8-10 speleologists and archaeologists, apart from in the Sala dei Pipistrelli where, due to the difficult environmental conditions, only two people could work.
In the area of the Cunicoli Terminali excavations took place in three different underground zones
(Cengia, Salto and Imbocco CTdx). These interventions, aimed to gain a better understanding of the ancient quarrying processes in the deepest part of the grotto, led to the removal of substantial sedimentary and/or clastic deposits. These deposits were carefully investigated as they incorporated a myriad of miniscule charcoal fragments, the residue from the ancient lighting systems used below ground (torches made from resinous wood). Subsequently, the carefully collected anthracological samples were used for a series of archaeo-botanical analyses and diverse radiocarbon datings. The latter once again confirmed the chronological horizon for the mining activities attested in the innermost part of the cavern (Sala dei Pipistrelli and Cunicoli terminali), as datable to the end of the 5th-mid 4th millennium B.C. (in calibrated chronology).
In the Sala dei Pipistrelli the exploration of the so-called Buca delle Impronte continued. This is a secondary branch characterised by evidence of mining that is exceptionally well- preserved despite its antiquity (quarrying marks, pillars for sustaining the vault etc.) The investigation identified the busiest crossing points on the paths used by the ancient miners, characterised by the presence of heavily compacted surfaces which originated from the constant coming and going during the mining activity. The context dates to a late phase of the Neolithic period, around about the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C.
Lastly, the excavation in Pregrotta explored the last part of the deposit still preserved next to the ample entrance to the cavity (Trench S9). The stratigraphic excavation once again revealed the damage caused by late medieval and post-medieval mining to the much earlier occupation evidence on the site, in particular that relating to the prehistoric and proto-historic periods. Digging was undertaken in order to exploit the deposits of ferrous hydroxides existing below the prehistoric and proto-historic occupation levels causing damage to the existing stratigraphic sequences in the Pregrotta. The damage was attested by metal pick marks at a substantial depth in the sedimentary deposit as well as “reverse stratigraphy”, with ancient materials present above later evidence, due to the action of the later miners.
To date three distinct phases of ancient anthropological activity have been defined for the underground site: the earliest is datable to around 20,000 years ago (Pregrotta); the middle phase dates to between 6,500 and 5,500 years ago (Sala dei Pipistrelli and Cunicoli terminali); the latest phase can be dated to between 900 and 1400 B.C. (Pregrotta and Cunicoli terminali).
- Felice Larocca - Università degli Studi di Bari
- Alfredo Geniola - Università degli Studi di Bari, Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Dipartimento di Beni Culturali e Scienze del Linguaggio
- Emanuela Gualdi - Università degli Studi di Ferrara
- Pasquale Acquafredda - Università degli Studi di Bari
- Giuseppe Nicoletti - Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Calabria
- Maria Clara Martinelli
- Filippo Vurro - Università degli Studi di Bari
- Girolamo Fiorentino - Università del Salento
- Lucio Calcagnile - Università del Salento
- Centro Regionale di Speleologia “Enzo dei Medici”
- Università degli Studi di Bari
- Università degli Studi di Ferrara
- Università del Salento, Dipartimento di Beni Culturali
- Comune di S. Agata di Esaro
- Parco Nazionale del Pollino
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