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Sicily Expedition: Preliminary survey of the Caves of the Bay of Cornino (TP)-Sicily-

Recognition and Tables for a work of recognition of the remarkable anthropic elements of the main cavities of the area.


Edited by Dr. Vittorio Lauro

See the tables BY CLICKING HERE​



On 7 May 2018 the Director of GASTP (Environmental and Speleological Group of Trapani) dr. Antonino Gallina has sent an official request for intervention to the attention of the director of the IRIAE (International Research Institute for Archeology and Ethnology) dr. Daniele Petrella, to make a survey of some cavities located in the Bay of Cornino (TP) in which the GASTP, during the normal activities of reconnaissance and safeguard, had identified some traces of human remains and human use of the same. Dr. Petrella then indicated the doctors Annalisa Buono and Vittorio Lauro to take care of the recognition activities of the human remains and of the activities of preliminary survey and recognition of archaeological traces of the cavities respectively. The exploratory mission (called in code IRIAE with the initials ES) took place from 8 May 2018 until 16 May 2018. This work reports the processing of preliminary data obtained by the undersigned dr. Lauro following the mission, and outlines the possible ways of intervention to be implemented below.


Operational note


The exploration and survey activities were carried out in full compliance with current legislation. The GASTP has guaranteed access to the cavities which are all accessible and whose entrance is open to the public. No element, geological or anthropic has been tampered with. All human remnant recognition activities have been carried out without the aid of an instrument other than optical. The surveys were performed with light grazing photogrammetry, without the aid of magnesium flashes that could affect the structure of the walls or any paint. No ceramic, bone or lytic element has been removed from the original place of discovery.


Archaeological Considerations


One of the main problems in relating to the Sicilian prehistoric archeology is unfortunately represented by the retrieval of the main information. Many of the sites that have been explored are already known to local archaeologists and research institutions in the area, but the studies have often been published in monographs that have hardly had a spread beyond Sicily. If one considers that none of these texts has been translated into English, one can observe how the Sicilian prehistory is largely unknown beyond the borders of the island. Another problem is represented by the archaeological importance of Punic, Greek and Roman Sicily which has led to an imbalance of studies that have focused on those periods also known from sources to be relevant and unjustly ascribing the Sicilian prehistory to phenomena of underestimation of processes social networks based on the best-known contexts in continental Europe. It is the opinion of those who write instead that the Sicilian prehistory present the uniqueness that most closely resemble the Levantine and Eastern Mediterranean realities that during periods of occupation and use of the cavities knew periods of high social complexity attributable to urban or proto-urban societies ( like the Cypriot site of Khirokitia or the Anatolian site of Göbekli Tepe).


The premises for our considerations.


The references to the Eastern Mediterranean civilizations are not random and start from the important study published in Nature in May 2017 that studies the dissemination and distribution of mitochondrial DNA in the Sicilian and southern Calabrian populations demonstrating the provenance of populations from Cyprus and from the east with a first wave right in the early phases of the Neolithic period (in a period between 10000 BC and 8000 BC, then contemporary to the aforementioned sites examined). The only cave that has been subjected to an intensive excavation and that we can use as a reference to our investigations is the Grotta dell'Uzzo, ascribable to the same cultural horizon of the caves we investigated also due to the morphological characteristics of the following ones. In that case the cave presents a use that goes from 8000 BC. until 6000 a.C ..


The common characteristics


What immediately attracted the attention of dr. Lauro and Dr. Buono are the characteristics that the Pecten cave, the cave of the Columns and the Cave of Pigs share.

First the position and the morphology:

  • All caves have an entrance facing the sea.

  • All have a deposition, which seems to be secondary or following manipulations of sorts, placed on the bottom of the cave next to a shelf that defines the niche.

  • All present, or presented at the time of use as confirmed by dr. Gallina, a natural limestone rock external body that gave the entrance of each one a "monumental" aspect.

  • All the caves are completely free of ceramics if they are not materials of definitely successive eras and due to successive uses of the cavities, which, not to be forgotten, were used up to twenty years ago as a shelter for animals or foodstuff warehouses.

  • Another key feature is the status of human remains. Because of the limestone castings all the bones are caged and kneaded with the same geological substance that constitutes the stalactites and stalagmites of the caves. Although we can not make a precise date on the growth of the concretions as influenced by various factors that change over the centuries, Dr Gallina states with certainty that such structures could not have been generated in less than 5000 years, constituting a term post quem for which the depositions can not have been placed by 3000 BC

  • All the depositions, at a first analysis by Dr. Buono, are single.


A similar coexistence of common factors, if each of these data were confirmed, defines a cultural horizon whose interpretative proposals below are to be considered preliminary and provisional and require a thorough study in this sense. For the moment, these are theses that must be fully substantiated or confirmed. In any case, a similar cultural complexity leads to considerations of greater complexity of the populations of Neolithic Sicily not explained by the standard model (and increasingly questioned) of nomadic hunter gatherers.


Punctual analysis of the cavities:


Macari Cave

The Macari Cave is a place of exceptional archaeological interest. The whole structure has a muddy paving, probably the result of the interference of the sea to which it is next, is studded with human remains and ceramic finds. At a very early interpretation on the spot, they would seem to be Punic ceramic remains. Such an interpretation would be confirmed by the arrangement of the bones, in the interpretation of Dr. Buono in the second deposition, confirming the existence of ancient Phoenician ossuaries. Because of the exceptional nature of the survey and being outside the cultural horizon of our interest here, we leave further considerations to the results obtained from the mission planned by the IRIAE under the direction of dr. Alfredo Carannante and Dr. Antonino Gallina.


Polyphemus Cave and Emiliana Cave


















The two cavities are very useful for our interpretative proposal because they are extraneous to the cultural horizon of our interest, and can show the profound differences existing in the use of caves according to different historical periods.

The Emilian cave has had numerous uses. Some finds have even been assigned to the Middle Paleolithic, although this interpretation is debated. In general, the shelter has provided hospitality over the millennia to both wildlife and various human populations, although unfortunately many of the traces have been destroyed by lime kilns built on site in the last century. What is certain is that there is no evidence of deposition proving that cave burial in these areas is not related to those communities that used the same cavities as a shelter for daily use. The numerous traces however bear witness to the fact that the cavity, easily accessible and with an extremely wide entrance, has been used mostly in the Neolithic local area (5500 BC).







A completely different speech for the nearby cave Polifemo, known above all in the world for the interesting cave paintings of the local eneolithic age (6500 BC). Contrary to the fanciful theories traceable in the local bibliography, which wants the paintings somehow connected to the summer solstice (which, naturally, in the Eneolithic age did not fall in the same period of today), they are configured in the forms of the typical Mediterranean paintings of era. Although they are now exposed to the elements due to a noticeable collapse that has put them in evidence, they originally had to be in a somewhat unreachable point of the cave, which originally had to look like a thin rift in the rock from the large entrance. no notable internal development. Without any interest for the peoples of the cultural horizon of our interest (and in fact no burial was found inside them), and instead perfect for the Eneolithic painters.




The two caves now examined show how the burials had to take place in specific places and that showed specific characteristics, which evidently corresponded to the cultural needs of the peoples that produced them. Although it is impossible for us to reconstruct these "needs", we can catalog them and in this way reconstruct some characteristics of these peoples.

Cave of Pigs





The cave owes its name to the fact that it had been for decades the porcupine den of the area. The exterior of the cave is represented by a monumental block of limestone still in situ that faces the sea. Toward the outside of the cave and in the areas immediately adjacent to it have been recognized ceramic elements but none in connection with the human remains which are perfectly preserved on the bottom thanks to the fact that they were incorporated in the calcareous flow. Dr Buono, also observing the preliminary findings made on the bones, came to the conclusion that they were in second deposition, which led to the supposition of a tampering as in the case of an ossuary. Another important element is the total absence of ceramic elements inside the block, which makes it possible to exclude a deposition in the urn or the presence of elements in a vase. Inside the cave the relief did not highlight the presence of any painting. The niche of the bones is located immediately below a raising that at the time of deposition had to look like a support bench, for which the undersigned proposed the placement of funerary offers of highly perishable materials.

Cave Columns


Probably the most interesting cavity of the whole group of those explored. The entrance, once dominated by a natural limestone block, has been carved to take on a perfectly squared appearance. The interior consists of a large circular environment from which you can access a second room located further down, on whose deepest side we find the niche with the human remains surrounded by the support counter. Also in this case the bones have been caged inside the casting. A unique aspect of this cave is that at the time of use, the lower area was occupied by a sheet of water supplied by an underground stream, all indicated by some stalactite witness that give us back the original level of the water, still lower than the deposition niche that had to be above the surface of the water. There are no ceramic elements in the cave.


Pecten Cave


The cave takes its name from a fossil pecten set immediately above the entrance arch. The cavity has undergone significant transformations due to the excessive proximity to an extraction quarry still in use. This led to the demolition of the external limestone body (of which traces of support remain) and a collapse of the internal paving of the cave. This created an additional environment in which the human remains and the original countertop were washed away. Fortunately, the geological formations of the original part and the blocks that imprison the human bones, are clearly different from those of the next area, and easily allow the reconstruction of the event that must have happened relatively recently preventing the formation of stalactites and stalagmites. Although the remains are strongly damaged and should be subjected to further investigations, dr Buono has tentatively proposed it be the remains of two individuals, an adult and a subadduction, in any case also in this case there is no trace of ceramics and bones are in second deposition (triple if we consider the collapse and the subsequent leaching).


The provisional Interpretation Proposal


Although the calcareous caging gives us an ante quem term for the depositions, the total absence of lithic material prevents us from making a precise date. The following interpretative proposal is currently a suggestion which must be supported by surveys and research in the following modalities.

It is the opinion of the writer that we are in the presence of traces of a people of ranchers or practicing ranching that occupied the area before the eneolithic populations of hunter gatherers and placed in close correlation with the sea but not in terms of subsistence (for which we would have found the known kits tied to similar activities) but perhaps as a function of opposition. This supposed opposition, which places the dead in place of guardians of the community, could be linked to the arrival of Middle Eastern peoples as witnessed by the studies of genetics above. Regarding the presence of depositions that may appear as ossuaries, we have numerous ethnic comparisons that break the classic scheme that the breeder wants to place in a tomb with a ceramic kit, but instead shows, for the prominent elements of the community, the burial in animal leather ossuaries and funeral goods kits. If these suggestions were correct, the area of ​​Trapani could show an absolutely new insight into the prehistory of the Mediterranean, relocating Sicily in a new perspective in the complex relationship with the Middle Eastern populations first and later Indo-Europeans.


Le Tavole dei Rilievi

Ancora 1
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