Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 1007–1037 | Cite as

Neanderthal Use of Callista chione Shells as Raw Material for Retouched Tools in South-east Italy: Analysis of Grotta del Cavallo Layer L Assemblage with a New Methodology

  • Francesca Romagnoli
  • Fabio Martini
  • Lucia Sarti


Neanderthal retouched tools made of marine shells have been reported in several sites in southern peninsular Europe. They are an adaptation to the coastal marine environment. Most important are the non-lithic tools that mark Mediterranean technical behaviour. Tool production is related to human needs, available resources, technical and social knowledge and innovation. The wide diffusion of shell tools makes them interesting items for investigating the variability of technology and contact among Neanderthal groups. Although these tools were first identified in the last 1950s, they still have not been considered in sufficient detail. In particular, this technology is handicapped by the lack of detailed description and references for technological analysis. This research proposes an original method aimed at reconstructing the process of production and use of these tools. It was conceived for future comparisons, both between shell tool assemblages and between lithic and shell tools, creating a common vocabulary and a set of analytical principles borrowed from lithic analysis, with which to think systematically beyond single cases. The analytical method is organised in five parts: taxonomy, morphometrical analysis, technical analysis of the retouched cutting edge, taphonomy and experimental archaeology. Thereafter, we present data on the shell tools of Grotta del Cavallo, coming from a recent excavation in layer L. It is the first detailed case study of Neanderthal non-lithic artefacts, applied to an assemblage with a significant number of well-preserved elements and with a certain stratigraphic context, and represents a constructive framework for the knowledge of the local adaptation to this raw material and of variability of Neanderthal technical behaviour.


Middle Palaeolithic Marine molluscs Callista chione Technical behaviour Raw material Italy 



The excavation at Grotta del Cavallo was supported by the University of Florence, the University of Siena and by the Mueseo Fiorentino di Preistoria. F.R. has been supported by a doctoral grant from the PhD School of History, International PhD Storia e Civiltà del Mondo Antico ciclo XXIII of the University of Florence. We would like to thank the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Puglia for the permission of field work and research in the cave and all of the students and researchers involved in the recovery and study of the archaeological, geological and paleontological record. We especially thank Attilio Galiberti. We are deeply grateful to Manolo Vaquero, Jacques Pelegrin, Catherine Perles and Massimiliano Ghinassi for their help during the study of the archaeological assemblage and to André Colonese for his essential support during the taxonomic and taphonomic analyses. We are thankful to Isabelle Sidera for her help during the light microscope analyses and the photographical documentation of the material and to Cristina Lemorini who contributed with generous helpfulness to improving the functional aspects of the research and to discussing the technical characters of the retouched edges.

The manuscript has been edited for English by an official translator and English native speaker.

We thank Gema Chacon and Paolo Romagnoli for very helpful comments on a previous draft of the manuscript and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved this paper.

Author Contributions

L.S. directed the archaeological excavation at the site. L.S. and F.M. identified the archaeological sequence of the deposit and assumed responsibility for the financial support of the investigation at Grotta del Cavallo. F.R. conceived and designed the methodology and the experiments, performed the experiments, analysed the data, interpreted the results and wrote the paper. The results were discussed by all of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francesca Romagnoli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fabio Martini
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lucia Sarti
    • 3
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Storia, Archeologia, Geografia, Arte e Spettacolo, Cattedra di PaletnologiaUniversità degli Studi di FirenzeFlorenceItaly
  2. 2.Museo Fiorentino di Preistoria ‘Paolo Graziosi’FlorenceItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche e dei Beni Culturali, PreistoriaUniversità degli Studi di SienaSienaItaly

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