Flint Dagger from the Mid-Neolithic in the Gargano

gargano dagger katzman

Gargano is a mountainous peninsula ca. 30km from north to south and 40km from east to west located on the Adriatic coast just south of the latitude of Rome. This late bifacially flaked Neolithic dagger (11 cm long) was found many years ago as a stray find. If it was made from the characteristic Gargano flint, remains unknown, because the artifact is covered by a thick white patina, characteristic for many prehistoric flint tools from the area.

Since the early European Neolithic, human communities have developed specific competences, they have engaged in production and distributed either raw materials and/or specialized products.

It is only through long-term studies that provide a picture of southern Italian Neolithic exchange.  Such work helped to gain insight into inter- and intra-group organization of the Neolithic communities in the Gargano and adjacent regions.  Manufacture and circulation networks could have had economic values, as well as being ‘social signs’ for indicating competitive status. There is an important symbolic dimension to exchange relationships which is well known in anthropological literature.

The Neolithic exchange system from mines in the Gargano with nearby communities for flint was mainly used in blade production and for tranchet axes.

One study aimed to discover the chemical fingerprint of each type of flint and then to identify the exchange network of tools supposedly made with flint from the Gargano Promontory. In order to try to identify each mine chemically, ICP-AES chemical analyses were carried out on flint nodules from seven of the Neolithic flint mines identified in the Gargano Promontory which were dug into two different geological formations. Cluster and discriminant analyses on nine trace elements subsequently allowed the mines to be separated into two groups corresponding to the two geological formations.

Analysis was then carried out on some artifacts which had been sampled from two Early Neolithic sites in the Tavoliere area (Monte Aquilone and Ripa Tetta), located about 50-80 km from the Gargano mines. In some cases flint samples were attributed to mines where flint nodules had been mined. Following this first pioneering study, a more complete spatial and chronological flint database is now under construction to generate a larger model of flint movements and to discover exactly how far flint types traveled.

The numerous underground extraction structures in the Gargano promontory pose some important questions regarding modes of production and social organization. Can we consider the mine workers to have been specialists? What does ‘specialist’ mean in the context of Early and Mid-Neolithic society? On the basis of ethnographic comparisons and archaeological data from contemporary contexts in southern Italy, a definition of part-time specialists is currently proposed. Extraction activities were carried out by people who may be described as specialists given their technological skills, but who carried out this activity in a periodic and irregular way. Extraction may have been a collective activity which functioned according to the same cyclical or seasonal mechanisms of temporary cooperation typical of some agricultural or non-agricultural activities.

Flint mining continued to be used in the 4th and 3rd millennia and production was specialized for making daggers, mainly from large blades. Insofar the production of large blades was part of a pan-European phenomenon, the “large blade tradition”*.  The morphology of the blades is quite different from those made in earlier periods. Such blades are always around 20–21cm long. Almost all the large blades of the region are made on local flint and were retouched into daggers through pressure flaking. The extension of the retouch was variable on the upper face, and covers only the proximal part and the tip on the lower face.  The typology of the blade daggers is varied. There are some differences in the morphology of the blade, the extension and the regularity of the retouch. For the moment, it is not possible to relate clear types with one period or one area.

Compared with the blade daggers, bifacial daggers in the Gargano region are much rarer. Their size and their morphology have been used to distinguish them from the arrowheads. They are longer, and they are always wider. They are between 9,5 cm and 33 cm long and measure at least 3,5 cm wide. Their tang, if they possess one, is always large, unlike the tang of the arrowheads. The latter aspect, along with their increased width, is the most important feature for distinguishing the very long (larger than 10cm long) – and probably non-functional – arrowheads from the smallest daggers. The bifacial daggers and the arrowheads are made by fine, bifacial pressure flaking. The only preform known to have been subjected to heat treatment was that of the dagger from Telese, but heat treatment seems not to be a regular part of the production process.

16 of the 21 daggers in one study were made from Gargano flint; the others were produced in diverse flints of unknown provenance. The typology of the bifacial daggers is very varied and it is still impossible to associate types with regions or periods. Several daggers show clear signs of use and resharpening. This was confirmed by traceological analyses. The over representation of bifacial daggers among stray finds may be biased by their high visibility.

*The most famous mass production of extraordinary long blades, which were used to produce Neolithic daggers in Europe, is known from the Grand Pressigny area, dating to the mid 3th millennium BC cal. These blades were massive: 25 to 38 cm long, 4 to 6 cm wide and about 1 to 1.5 cm thick and detached from special cores (“livre-de-beurre” cores). In 1970, a cache of 134 to 138 fresh blades was discovered at “La Creusette” and carefully excavated. The technological analysis of this cache revealed, that the blades were detached from the “livre-de-beurre” cores by an individualized indirect percussion technique. “Livre-de-beurre” cores as smaller scatters have been detected at some other sites in S-W-France, suggesting that some craftsman ordinarily working at Grand Pressigny helped to spread the “savoir faire” of such long blade and dagger production around an extended area.


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