ECHO Molise
  Emigration and Cultural Heritage of the Molise
Archaeology in the Molise

Introduction and Caveat.                           

It seemed straight-forward enough—summarize current archaeological research into a series of short web articles on prehistoric man in the Molise.  It turned into a daunting—yet fascinating—journey into conflicting theories stemming from new and re-evaluated older archaeological discoveries. 


Did modern man originate in Africa or Asia?  Or spontaneously, in multiple regions?  Did he migrate out of Africa once or in multiple waves?  Did he absorb, inbreed with or annihilate Neanderthal man?  Was Neanderthal man a Homo sapiens subspecies or a separate species?  And so forth.


It is not our intent to enter the scholastic fray, to present as “correct” one theory over another.  Instead, we simply want to provide basic information about the earliest inhabitants of the Molise and chose information based on potential interest to our readers.  However, we recognize that for each selected, summarized and simplified statement presented here, more theories (different interpretations of the same data) go unstated.  This is not the prehistory of our schooldays, before the ability to test DNA or use 3-dimensional forensic modeling to give a skull a face.  Instead, this is an exciting time of scholastic debate and continual discovery… perhaps an “evolutionary” milestone in the study of evolution…

Using this simplistic approach, we also present some basic information on:
Earliest Inhabitants  and DNA and Migration

Archaeological Research in the Molise
A Mediterranean Valley as Primary Reference

Graeme Barker is a professor of archeology at the University of Leicester, and previously Director of the British School at Rome (1984-1988).  His Biferno River Valley Archaeological Survey is considered the best example to date of the importance of human settlement in shaping the Mediterranean landscape. Therefore, our research relied heavily on Barker’s survey results, as presented in his totally fascinating 1995 book, A Mediterranean Valley.


 The Biferno River traverses the Molise for 100 kilometers, with headwaters on the northern side of the Matese Mountains and empties into the sea near Termoli.  Since the 1970s, a major highway (the Bifernia) paralleled the river, allowing easy access and connection between the two Molise provinces (Isernia and Campobasso).  At least 42 Molise towns lie within the Biferno Valley. 
Map of the Biferno Valley


A Mediterranean Valley describes Barker’s 1974 survey, which incorporated “field-walking” and excavation of freshly plowed land plots along the Biferno River valley.  Fieldwork continued through the 1980s. The book not only describes the methods and results of his Archaeological survey, it provides a factual and sensitive analysis of Molise history, culture and challenges.  It is endearingly illustrated with Frank Monaco’s photographs of Cantalupo, 1950.


In justifying his decision to survey the Biferno Valley (an area encompassing nearly one-third of the Molise towns), Barker describes the state of archaeological research in the Molise at that time: 

"The heritage in Italy – archaeological, artistic, archival – is controlled and protected by a system of sopraintendenze, or superintendencies.  Each region has its Archaeological Superintendency, which undertakes appropriate conservation works to the monuments in its care, monitors planning applications for their effect on archaeological sites, conducts archaeological research (especially rescue work), and oversees fieldwork and museum studies in its territory by other archaeologists from Italian and foreign universities and museums and the foreign schools in Rome.  (With few exceptions such as the Gruppo Archeologico Romano, amateur archaeologists are rarely permitted by the state to undertake fieldwork, especially excavation.)  Molise is the youngest of the Italian regions.  Until the 1960s it was administered with the neighbouring region to the north, Abruzzo, the entire region being known collectively as the Abruzzi.  The case for it to be an autonomous region was formally recognized in 1966, but its first elected administrative council only took office in 1970.  Until its own Archaeological Superintendency was established in that year in the capital town of the newly autonomous region of Campobasso, the archaeology of Molise was administered at a distance by the single Superintendency for Abruzzo and Molise in Abruzzo’s capital town, Chieti.  With no Superintendency of its own, and no university, it was perhaps inevitable that, until the establishment of the autonomous region, far less archaeological research had been carried out in Molise than anywhere else in Italy… Given the wealth of material known to the north and south, it seemed to me highly likely that the almost total absence of published evidence for prehistoric finds in Molise reflected absence of fieldwork rather than absence of settlement."




 Barker, Graeme.  A Mediterranean Valley:  Landscape Archaeology and Annales History in the Biferno Valley.  Leicester University Press:  1995.


Frank Monaco (1917-2007). 

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