The sharing of food and alcoholic beverages is extremely important today as in the past because provides a wealth of information on societies where this occurred. So far however, most of these practices known through archaeology have been primarily those undertaken by people from the same individual community or regional district.
The Bronze Age site of Roca (2) in Southern Italy, has produced clear evidence for the existence at this place of one of the earliest inter-cultural feasting ‘party’ in Mediterranean Europe, dating to c.a. 1200 BC.
This small (about 3 hectares nowadays, although it was larger in the past) but monumental fortified settlement (its stone walls measured up to 25m in width), located on the Adriatic coast of Apulia, southern Italy, has been investigated for many years by a team from the University of Salento. Such a research has demonstrated the existence of a long-lasting and intense relationship with Minoan and Mycenaean Greece at least from c.a. 1400 BC and of more sporadic connections since the earliest Bronze Age occupation at the site. One of the areas of the settlement (investigated a few years ago) has produced the largest set of ceramics of Mycenaean type ever found in the same context west of Greece (more than 380 vessels). This pottery was associated with abundant local ceramics, remains of meals and of numerous animal sacrifices. A recent study (1) suggests this was the result of a large-scale feast in which it is possible to recognise the participation of groups of people with two distinct cultural backgrounds.
One is the southern Italian component, hinted by the local ceramic material as well as by the very modality of the sacrifices. Analyses of bones have shown that after the killings, extensive portions (e.g. one entire leg, or the head) were separated from the carcasses and deposited in the ground and covered up with leaves and branches that left impressions on the back of the thick crushed limestone pavement that sealed all this. Such a ritual procedure seems not to be attested in the Mycenaean world, where animal sacrifices normally involve the use of fire, but finds some parallels in other Bronze Age sites in Southern Italy.
The second cultural component was the Aegean one, broadly intended, and this is suggested by the copious presence of Aegean style pottery (both imported and locally made) as well as by the very nature of the feast. Evidence for large feasting events involving the presence of a considerable number of people at the same time (the count of participants estimated on the basis of the consumption of the meat of the sacrificed animals alone was between 530 and 176 people) is lacking in Italian Bronze Age, but these events were relatively common in the Aegean world. Also, the probable use of alcoholic drinks (suggested by the recovery of both Aegean style wine cups and large transport stirrup jars, the ancestors of classical amphorae) is an element that is not present in southern Italy but widespread in the Minoan/Mycenaean world, where this was an important part of Palatial societies.
The broad context in which this event took place provides clues on some of the possible reasons behind it. In the Late Bronze Age, after the fall of Mycenaean palaces, the links between Italy (including the north of the peninsula, rich in metal resources) and the societies that continued to inhabit the Aegean, had increased considerably. East-west connections did not affect only the central Mediterranean region as indeed at the same time many ‘western looking’ artefacts (both ceramics and metal types) started to appear in main sites in Greece.
Being located at the junction between the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea, Roca acquired a considerable importance in these connections, acting as a mediating node. The feasting practices demonstrated at Roca give us a first concrete snapshot of the details of what these encounters between people possibly coming from distant locales might have looked like.
(1) Iacono, F. 2015. ‘Feasting at Roca: Cross-Cultural Encounters and Society in the Southern Adriatic during the Late Bronze Age’. European Journal of Archaeology 18 (2): 259–81. doi:10.1179/1461957114Y.0000000074.
(2) Pagliara, C., R. Guglielmino, L. Coluccia, I. Malorgio, M. Merico, D. Palmisano, M. Rugge, and F. Minonne. 2008. ‘Roca Vecchia (Melendugno, Lecce), SAS IX: Relazione Stratigrafica Preliminare sui Livelli di Occupazione Protostorici (Campagne di Scavo 2005-2006)’. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche, 58: 239–80.
Francesco Iacono is a specialist in Mediterranean prehistory, but his broader research interests include social theory, approaches to ceramics, the history and politics of archaeology, and heritage. He has collaborated with institutions in the UK, Italy, Greece, and Albania. He has a PhD from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and is currently a postdoctoral fellow (funded by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory) at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.