Conference Paper

Grotta Romanelli (Lecce, southern Italy): an archeo-paleo-geosite of the Mediterranean

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Grotta Romanelli is a coastal cave inhabited by humans since the Middle Pleistocene and considered a symbol of the Palaeolithic period in Europe. The site, facing the Ionian Sea, is located in the administrative territory of the Castro (Lecce) municipality, at the south-eastern extremity of Apulia.This area, also known as Salentine Peninsula, documents the Quaternary human presence and climatic changes through rich archaeological, palaeontological and geological evidence. This richness favoured the establishment of several Regional Natural Parks to protect the natural landscape and its historical heritage, such as “Porto Selvaggio and Palude del Capitano”, “Isola di Sant’Andrea e Litorale di Punta Pizzo”, “Litorale di Ugento”, “Bosco and Paludi di Rauccio” and “Costa Otranto-Santa Maria di Leuca and Bosco di Tricase” where Grotta Romanelli is located.

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A river otter hemimandible has been rediscovered during the revision of the historical collections of G.A. Blanc from Grotta Romanelli, complementing the ongoing multidisciplinary research fieldwork on the site. The specimen, recovered from the level G (“terre rosse”; early Late Pleistocene or late Middle Pleistocene), is here assigned to Lutra lutra . Indeed, morphological and morphometric comparisons with other Quaternary Lutrinae fossils from Europe allow to exclude an attribution to the relatively widespread and older Lutra simplicidens , characterized by distinctive carnassial proportions. Differences with Cyrnaonyx antiqua , which possessed a more robust, shellfish-feeding dentition, support the view of a successful niche repartition between the two species during the late Middle to Late Pleistocene of Europe. The occurrence of Lutra lutra from the “terre rosse” of Grotta Romanelli suggests deep modifications of the landscapes due to the ecological adaptation of the taxon, and indicates that the Eurasian otter spread into Europe at the Middle–Late Pleistocene transition.
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Grotta Romanelli, located on the Adriatic coast of southern Apulia (Italy), is considered a key site for the Mediterranean Pleistocene for its archaeological and palaeontological contents. The site, discovered in 1874, was re-evaluated only in 1900, when P. E. Stasi realised that it contained the first evidence of the Palaeolithic in Italy. Starting in 1914, G.A. Blanc led a pioneering excavation campaign, for the first-time using scientific methods applied to systematic paleontological and stratigraphical studies. Blanc proposed a stratigraphic framework for the cave. Different dating methods (C14 and U/Th) were used to temporally constrain the deposits. The extensive studies of the cave and its contents were mostly published in journals with limited distribution and access, until the end of the 1970s, when the site became forgotten. In 2015, with the permission of the authorities, a new excavation campaign began, led by a team from Sapienza University of Rome in collaboration with IGAG CNR and other research institutions. The research team had to deal with the consequences of more than 40 years of inactivity in the field and the combined effect of erosion and legal, as well as illegal, excavations. In this paper, we provide a database of all the information published during the first 70 years of excavations and highlight the outstanding problems and contradictions between the chronological and geomorphological evidence, the features of the faunal assemblages and the limestone artefacts.
The Romanelli Cave in south-east Italy is an important reference point for the so-called ‘Mediterranean province’ of European Upper Palaeolithic art. Yet, the site has only recently been subject to a systematic investigation of its parietal and portable art. Starting in 2016, a project has recorded the cave's interior, discovering new parietal art. Here, the authors report on a selection of panels, featuring animal figures, geometric motifs and other marks, identifying the use of different types of tools and techniques, along with several activity phases. These panels are discussed with reference to radiocarbon dating of nearby deposits, posing questions about chronology, technology and wider connections between Upper Palaeolithic cave sites across western Eurasia.
Between Past and Future: New Studies and Perspectives for an Archaeo-geosite Symbol of the Palaeolithic in Europe
  • Grotta Romanelli
Grotta Romanelli (Lecce, Southern Italy) Between Past and Future: New Studies and Perspectives for an Archaeo-geosite Symbol of the Palaeolithic in Europe. Geoheritage 11(4): 1413-1432