BMCR 2021.11.28

Facies e culture nell’età del Bronzo italiana?

, , , Facies e culture nell'età del Bronzo italiana?. Artes (Institut historique belge de Rome), XI. Turnhout: Brepols, 2019. Pp. 321. ISBN 9789492771353 €70,00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This is a fascinating book, as the concept (facies, literally meaning a body of material differing by its appearance and composition from any others) it discusses is unique to Italian archaeology, stemming from the particular development of the archaeological discipline in Italy. All the papers try to answer the same interrelated questions set by the organisers: what we mean by the concepts of ‘culture’ and facies, and how we define them.

The 24 papers are divided into two sections: the history, theory and method; and the current state of the affairs with case studies from northern Italy and the Alps, and peninsular Italy and the islands. The conclusions are discussed over three papers: the joint concluding remarks are followed by Cavazzutti’s paper on the possibilities of the DNA studies and Cattani’s paper on the need for sharing data and carrying out interdisciplinary projects.

In his Introduction Danckers points out how the term ‘cultura archeologica’ was widely used in Italian archaeology before the World War Two, even if facies was used over a short period in the 1910s and 1920s. The term facies originates in geology and was first used in Italian archaeology by Antonio Colini for the Bronze Age.[1] After the war scholars wished to avoid the term ‘archaeological culture’ due to its use in signifying ethnos and race in Nazi Germany. Thus, Renato Peroni avoided using the term in his volume presenting the Subapennine (Recent Bronze Age) material as a fase cronologica.[2] He used the term facies archaeologica occasionally in his 1989 book.[3] Later, Peroni defined the term facies in a strictly typological sense, constructing a typo-chronological concept.[4] Danckers does not mention in his introduction how crucial different facies are for dating purposes. The presentation of different Italian facies makes the volume relevant for those wishing to study Italian Bronze Age.

Most of the authors follow Peroni’s line that ‘archaeological culture’ equates with ethnos and the use of facies is preferable to use of archaeological culture during the Bronze Age, since facies recognises the imperfect nature of evidence and is based on the material culture: pottery, lithics, burials and settlement sites. The term ‘culture’ is seen as preferable for the periods for which the ethnos can be deduced from the written sources. Apart from Peroni, the theoretical discussions most often mention Gordon Childe’s definition of ‘archaeological culture’[5] and the polythetic nature of types and cultures presented by David Clarke.[6]

The editors do summarise the use of the terms ‘culture’ and facies by the authors in the articles in their joint ‘Conclusione’, but I hope to add here to their comments. The first two papers, by De Marinis and Guidi hint on the subtleties in the use of these concepts. The facies has been used in the way Peroni meant it to be used by his students in the Roman school of prehistory, whereas the archaeologists from other parts of Italy may show slightly different interpretations. Thus, De Marinis describes the beginning of the 20th century as a long period of stagnation, when prehistory was subordinate to classical archaeology. He notes that the term ‘culture’ was still used between the 1950s and 1970s, whereas at the end of the century Peroni’s term facies was preferred as subordinate to ‘culture’. He also fleetingly criticises the way the term is used uncritically by students of Peroni and points out that the concept facies is not used elsewhere in Europe. However, Guidi (a student of Peroni), presents the use of facies for describing Bronze Age spatio-chronological entities as universally used in Italy. He differentiates between the ‘archaeological culture’ and facies as emic and etic concepts reflecting the difference between the original typology in the past and the classifications of the modern researchers. Guidi conforms to the view that ‘archaeological culture’ can be used for the Iron Age (Villanovan culture).

In their article Damiani and Pacciarelli, students of Peroni, state that facies archaeologica is a preferred term among their colleagues. They concentrate on the limits and character of the concepts and consider Salvatore Puglisi with his book on the Apennine culture[7] as the last archaeologist to define a holistic archaeological culture, showing evidence for both material culture and Bronze Age ideologies. Damiani and Pacciarelli get their inspiration from Clarke’s polythetical cultures and remind us how Peroni stated that the coincidence of 60 % of shared types within an area could define a facies geographically.

Cazzella and Recchia do not see much difference between the concepts of ‘culture’ and facies. They, as some other authors in this book, refer to the ethnoarchaeological studies of Hodder and point out the lack of the distribution of pottery decorations coinciding with meaningful cultural groupings.[8] They suggest that ‘collective agency’ could replace facies as a concept and promote the network approach in describing past communities. As a case study, they present the Bronze Age settlements in southeastern Italy, where the pottery distributions do not coincide with other cultural markers. Vanessa Forte in her novel paper underlines the interpretative limitations all archaeologists encounter when drawing conclusions from material culture and sees this as the reason why the Italian archaeologists prefer the concept facies. She has an innovative approach to past identities using chaîne opératoire in the analysis of the motor habits of pottery makers east of Rome. She identifies different technological models during the Middle and Recent Bronze Age by combining scientific composite analysis, trace analysis and experimental archaeology.

Capuzzo et al. suggest a quantitative approach, where the presence of diagnostic pottery and/or metal object types is combined with Bayesian mathematics. The scholars recognise that in Italy the concept of facies has been slowly replacing ‘culture’ and base their facies on the anthropological concepts of ‘culture’ developed by García Canclini[9], D’Andrane[10] and Carley[11] that emphasise sharing information. The authors look for similarities and differences and introduce discontinuity and gradient (rates of change in spatial, temporal and spatio-temporal mathematical formulas) as the key concepts in defining facies. C14 tests from single-period sites provide the chronological frameworks for different discontinuities between the facies. Sadly, they do not present in detail their results of studying northern Italy in 1800-800 BC, which should show the applicability of this approach. The details have been published elsewhere and the authors even refer to figures in different articles without providing any here.

Cattani presents a WebGIS database of the University of Bologna that contains Bronze Age sites from all Italy. He sees the sites as villages and carries out different analyses, such as drawing Thiessen polygons and X-Tent between the sites, network analysis together with relative neighbourhood graph, and region emptiness. The article emphasises the gaps in the material, but proceeds into a study of boundaries and/or contacts between villages in the northern Italy by superimposing different distributions that reveal the exchanges of ideas and mobility at the local level. This article could have been improved by more discussion on the maps and making sure that all maps have legends.

In the following 13 case studies on northern Italy, ‘culture’ and facies are approached from different angles: Marzatico approves Peroni’s ideas on ‘culture’ and facies and assesses the discontinuity between the Bronze Age Luco-Laugen culture and the Iron Age Rhetic Fritzens-Sanzeno culture that share some of the non-material aspects of ‘culture’ and therefore probably show their ethnogenesis in the central northern Italy. Both Delfino and Del Lucchese, and Rubat Borel discuss the evidence for the Bronze Age facies by presenting pottery, metalwork, burials and settlement sites in their respective areas, Liguria and northwestern Italy. Rapi et al. consider the facies as subordinate to ‘culture’ and therefore reclassify the Polada culture as a facies due to the lack of written sources shedding light on the ethnicity or language. Their discussion is based on the results of the excavations at Lavagnone in the Po valley. Vinci et al. look for an independent facies on the Friulian plain, previously only known from loose finds and the cemeteries related to the hillforts of the so-called Castellieri culture. The team discusses the interesting situation where the pottery was shared between the Friulian area and Slovenia during the Middle Bronze Age, but the settlement type was not. This connection broke by the later Bronze Age, as Brina Škvor Jernejčič from Slovenia shows. Boccuccia et al. try to identify the passage from the Terramare facies in the Bronze Age into the Iron Age Villanovan culture in Emilia Romagna.

The papers on the central and southern Italy include a discussion on the status of the sites with Bell Beaker and epicampaniforme pottery in the Florence area by Sarti et al., a presentation of the effect of the new C14 datings on the interpretation of the sites with pottery of the Palma-Campania facies by Soriano and Albore Livardi, the history of periodisation in Sicily by Cultrano and Crispino, the presentation of a hybrid pottery type that combined the local tradition of painted pottery with Bell Beaker motives by Gullì and a GIS database with information on 120 sites in Sardinia that is used to describe two local facies in central and western Sardinia and in the southern part of the island by Despalmas and Cossu. Barbaro and di Gennaro discuss central Italy and show preferences for different motifs on Apennine pottery in different regions. Considering the new pottery find from the Radicicoli Maffei estate north of Rome with signs of sketching of the motifs in form of incisions on the body, they suggest that the Apennine pottery can be seen as a style and a proxy for language and identity.

This volume shows that the concept of facies as defined by Peroni has had a lasting impact on Italian Bronze Age studies. It demonstrates how the lack of funerary contexts during the earlier Bronze Age has made pottery the key proxy for cultural developments and the facies mainly defined by different pottery types and styles at different settlement sites. Even if the concept of facies is shared by most Italian archaeologists, its position within the hierarchy of the archaeological concepts is ambiguous: some consider it the same as ‘archaeological culture’, whereas others see it subordinate to ‘culture’. All this means that this book is essential for understanding the current study of Italian Bronze Age. However, even if there are lengthy abstracts in English (all but one article are in Italian), the full grasp of the discussions require the reader to be fluent in Italian. Nevertheless, the abstracts do convey the fact that Italian Bronze Age archaeology has its own strong theoretical and methodological tradition.

Authors and titles

Danckers, J., Introduzione
de Marinis, R., Cultura archeologica, facies archeologica, gruppo culturale e civiltà nella letteratura pre- e protostorica italiana
Guidi, A., Tipi e culture nell’archeologia preistorica italiana: un binomio inscindibile?
Damiani, I., Pacciarelli, M., Distribuzione politetica dei tipi, processi di permeabilità e altri limiti del concetto di faciesarcheologica
Cazzella, A., Recchia, G., Cultures and societies in Bronze Age Italy: case studies from the South-eastern region
Forte, V., Scelte tecnologiche e identità culturali: un contributo metodologico al dibattito sul concetto di facies
Capuzzo, G., Achino, K. F., Barceló, J. A., Ridefinendo il concetto di facies culturale: un approccio quantitativo
Cattani, M., Presupposti teorici e metodi operativi per l’identificazione delle caratteristiche delle comunità dell’età del Bronzo in Italia settentrionale


Italia continentale e Alpi
Marzatico, F., La definizione della Cultura di Luco/Laugen nell’area alpina centro-orientale: aspetti metodologici e interpretativi in chiave etnogenetica
Delfino, D., Del Lucchese, A. L’età del Bronzo in Liguria: percorsi tecnologici e culturali
Rubat Borel, F. Il Bronzo Medio in Italia nordoccidentale: per la definizione culturale di una regione
Rapi, M., Amato, A., Carri, A., Hirose, M., Lamanna, L., Sidoli, C., Lavagnone (Desenzano del Garda – Lonato, BS): orizzonti culturali, fasi, facies, culture
Vinci, G., Tasca, G., Vicenzutto, D., Spunti per una definizione della variabilità archeologica nelletà del Bronzo del Caput Adriae tra pianura friulana e Carso
Škvor Jernejčič, B., Considerazioni su alcuni aspetti cronologici e funerari dell’età del Bronzo Recente in Italia e Slovenia
Boccuccia, P., Bondini, A., Miari, M., Pozzi, A., Trocchi, T., Cultura tra facies ed ethnos. Casi di studio dall’Emilia Romagna

Italia peninsolare ed isole
Sarti, L., Leonini, V., Martini, F., Pizziolo, G., Volante, N., La prima età del Bronzo in area fiorentina tra tradizione e innovazione: riflessioni per una proposta interpretative
Barbaro, B., di Gennaro, F., Appenninico. Storia di un nome attribuito a genti, ceramiche, civiltà, cultura, periodo, aspetto culturale, orizzonte, età, epoca, facies, fase, stile e altro
Soriano, E., Albore Livadie, C., La facies di Palma Campania: omogeneità culturale interna e circolazione dei modelli ceramici
Cultraro, M., Crispino, A., Una terra visionaria tra periodi culturali e facies: il caso della
preistoria siciliana da Paolo Orsi a Luigi Bernabò Brea
Gullì, D., Alcune riflessioni sul concetto di facies alla luce di recenti studi e scoperte nella territorio agrigentino tra età del Rame Finale e Bronzo Antico
Depalmas, A., Cossu, L. I., La frontiera del pettine. Facies nella protostoria della Sardegna

Danckers, J., Cavazzutti, C., Cattani, M., Conclusione
Cavazzutti, C., Oltre ciò che appare, oltre facies archeologiche. Cosa possano dare aDNA e isotopi per la protostoria italiana
Cattani, M., Facies e culture nell’età del Bronzo italiana? La prospettiva di un cambiamento


[1] Colini, G. A. 1904. La civiltà del bronzo in Italia. Bullettino di Paletnologia 3, 155-199.

[2] Peroni, R. 1960 . Per una definizione dell aspetto culturale subapenninico come fase cronologica a sé stante. Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Memorie. Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche 9. Rome.

[3] Peroni, R. 1989. Popoli e civiltà dell’Italia antica: Protostoria dell’Italia continentale 9. Rome.

[4] Peroni, R. 1994. Introduzione alla protostoria italiana. Bari.

[5] E.g. Childe, V. G. 1929. The Danube in prehistory. Oxford.

[6] Clarke, D. L. 1968. Analytical archaeology. London.

[7] Puglisi, S. M. 1959. La civiltà appenninica origine delle comunità pastorali in Italia. Florence.

[8] Hodder, I. 1982. Symbols in action: ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture. Cambridge.

[9] García Canclini, N. 1990.  Culturas híbridas: Estrategias para entrar y salir de la modernidad. México.

[10] D’Andrade, R. 1987. A folk model of the mind. In D. Holland and N. Quinn (eds.), Cultural Models in Language and Thought, 112-148. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[11] Carley, K. 1991. A theory of group stability. American Sociological Review, 56(3), 331–354.