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Archaeology of Pilgrimage Paper Abstracts

Rock inscriptions in the Alps and in Salento peninsula as evidence for defining pilgrimage 

Simona Marchesini (Alteritas, Università di Verona)

The devotional practice of pilgrimage in pre-Roman Italy is attested by a wide variety of epigraphic evidence. Records of both long and short distance pilgrimages can be observed on rock sites and caves. If we examine this kind of record more closely, it seems evident that two kinds of inscriptions were engraved on the surface of rock walls or caves. Together with relatively well understood devotional texts, a web of so-called ‘ego-inscriptions’, made up of overlapping texts in a multilayer setting are displayed. Specifically, this kind of text attests a practice observed from the ancient world up to modern times of more secular pilgrimages to some ‘special’ places. People also visit modern memorials (21st September Memorial in New York, the Juliet balcony in Verona, the Elephant Cafe in Edinburgh where J.K Rowling began to write Harry Potter) and leave their written signs as a testimony of their presence (Marchesini in press). The linguistic landscape (as outlined for example by Scollon 2003 and Shohamy & Gorter 2008), the anthropology of writing (Cardona 1981, Fraenkel 2007) and the phenomenology of landscape (starting from Tilley 1994) are the tools which help us to comprehend and describe these places. Within this framework I will present and analyse some Alpine sites (such as the rock faces of La Camisana or Valcamonica, or Schnejdjoch in Southern Tirol) and the Messapic evidence from Roca Vecchia at Melendugno (LE), where the immense epigraphic complex of Grotta Poesia – almost 50m2 of cave wall inscriptions written mostly in the Messapic language – reveals a short-distance pilgrimage, linked to the devotional destination of the cave in ancient times. This also seems to apply to the Latin inscriptions of the Grotta, still unpublished, in which the gentile names reveal the allochtonous provenance of the pilgrims (Pagliara 1987, 1990, 1991). This interpretation emerges from the work recently undertaken by the Consorzio Grotta Poesia, formed in 2017 by seven partners (among them Alteritas and the University of Lecce) with the aim of restoring, studying and validating the immense epigraphic heritage of this maritime cave.

Evidence of pilgrimage in Bronze Age sanctuaries in Southern Etruria (Italy): caves, peaks, lakes and the natural mimesis phenomenon

 Nuccia Negroni Catacchio*, Massimo Cardosa**, Christian Metta,*** Marco Romeo Pitone****

* Università degli Studi di Milano e Centro Studi di Preistoria e Archeologia, Milano, ** Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera di Milano e Centro Studi di Preistoria e Archeologia, Milano, *** Università di Pisa e Centro Studi di Preistoria e Archeologia, Milano, **** Newcastle University, Centro Studi di Preistoria e Archeologia, Milano

Investigating protohistoric religions is always a difficult task, primarily because of the lack of written sources, and, in the specific case of Etruria, also because of the complexity of the related material culture. However, the historical Etruscan sanctuaries, certainly more visible and better understood than their antecedents, are the result of mental and cultural processes that are rooted in late protohistory. Analysing the archaeological evidence in a wider context, under the lens of other disciplines, such as the anthropology of religion, can help suggest valid interpretations. Between the Late Bronze Age and the Early ‘Orientalising’ (10th-8th century BCE) period in Etruria (Central Italy) it is possible to identify some processes that led to the formation of cities and complex, well-structured societies. Within the sphere of cult, similar processes involved the evolution of sacred spaces. Religious practice moved from the main “natural” sacred spaces, represented by well-known archetypes (such as caves, mountain peaks, natural chasms, lakes and water features), to the creation of a kind of artificial cult space, mimetic of the earlier natural sites, but built by humans inside settlements. The last step of the development, related to the concept of sacred spaces, is represented by the sanctuary-huts, direct prefiguration of the definitive version of buildings specifically dedicated to worship: the temples. These protohistoric sanctuaries seem to have all been part of a ‘religious map’ well-known to the members of different communities of Southern Etruria, whose attendance as pilgrims at these sacred spaces is testified in the archaeological record by goods with diverse origins.

We will examine different examples of early sanctuaries from Early Bronze Age Southern Etruria, tracking the path of these sacred spaces down to the Late Bronze Age. Our focus will be on the case-studies of the artificial cave-sanctuaries at the settlement of Sorgenti della Nova (prov.Viterbo) which has been consistently excavated for about forty years. This exceptional context provides the opportunity for the interpretation of a range of archaeological data relating to cult practice, obtained from an established stratigraphic excavation.

Finding religion: investigating the Lago di Venere Punic-Roman sanctuary on Pantelleria

Carrie Murray (Brock University)

The ongoing excavations at the Lago di Venere sanctuary site on Pantelleria Island are in the process of revealing a multicultural locus of worship dating from the sixth century BCE to the second century CE. Several characteristics of the site and its physical context present questions about its origins and maintenance as a sacred space. The position of the sanctuary on the edge of a volcanic crater lake of thermal, non-potable water seems reasonably to be one of the factors behind the identification and durability of this area to hold meaning to people for so long. The longevity of the site and the material culture indicate continuity through Punic and Roman periods without a destruction layer. Fragments of votive offerings, particularly a small number of archaic female votives, signal stylistic comparanda from Greek areas of Sicily, Punic North Africa, and possibly elsewhere.


The wide remit coupled with the small number of unique votives suggests that worshippers travelled long-distances but possibly on a small scale. Many of the characteristics of the Lago di Venere sanctuary do not fit well into expectations of pilgrimage sites in antiquity (see Elsner, Rutherford 2007). This sanctuary offers an example in which some of the parameters of ancient pilgrimage can be questioned without the confines stemming from studies of Christian pilgrimage. In particular, can journeys that include both sacred and secular purposes, especially trade, be considered “pilgrimage”? Other examples of sanctuaries in the central Mediterranean with evidence of trade will be brought into the discussion. The issue of combined purposes could speak directly to the longevity and multi-cultural appeal of visitation to the Lago di Venere and other sanctuaries in the ancient Mediterranean.

The Pilgrimage and lived religiousness in Northern Apulia, Italy

Laura Carnevale (University of Bari) & Daniela Patti (University of Enna “Kore”)

Sacred spaces can be defined by the particular signs, identity land markers and significant settings for people who attended them. Research on sacred places is a special way of investigating not only religious and cultural phenomena, but also the cultural and social history of a territory: while contributing to the shaping of physical space, in fact, sacred places also empower the symbolic and cultural perception of it. They are indeed identity markers for the people who dwell there, as well as for the pilgrims who attend them, and they usually develop as a set of cross-faith and cross-cultural encounters. This often leads to a persistent imbuing of a sacred meaning to such places by different people across time and space, and to the subsequent continuous use of them over the centuries, whatever the religious affiliation of the visitors.

This is the case for the Gargano promontory (Apulia), which can be described as a “Holy Mountain”, a “Holy Land”, perceived as sacred since Roman times, as witnessed by textual and archaeological sources, which will be presented in the paper. Apart from the sanctuaries of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Matthew the Apostle, such sacredness is embodied in a chain of sanctuaries, hermitages, monasteries, rock settlements, burial places etc., strictly connected with – and significantly empowered by – the presence of important pilgrimage routes: the so-called “Via Francigena del Sud” (natural environment/built environment). The cult destination of some of these places is a meaningful element witnessing everyday life and connoting the lived religiousness of this land in the process of Christianisation between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Another important issue is linked to the relationship between religious authority (marked by the sanctuaries), communities (marked by the churches) and individuals (linked to the hermitages).

Cave pilgrimage in Iron Age Iberia: a sensorial approach

Sonia Machause (University of Valencia) & Robin Skeates (Durham University)

In this paper, we present the sensorial analysis of two Iberian Iron Age caves in the Spanish province of Valencia: Cueva Merinel and Cueva del Sapo. As part of a Mediterranean-scale comparative project (including an Italian cave), we are developing a sensorial methodology to map and interpret human experiences in and around later prehistoric ritual caves. Our approach centers on the ideas of ritual passage and of liminality, experienced by diverse participants over space and time.

The location of Iberian ritual caves (5th-3rd centuries BCE)―situated within, but on the margins of, the territories of preeminent residential centers―implies a ritual journey to the limits of the familiar, lived-in landscape. Grounded in the archaeological realities of the contexts and ritual deposits excavated in our two selected caves and in their wider environs, we consider, in detail, the contrasting stages and decisions involved in this ritual process. Ultimately, we tie this to the idea of cave pilgrimage, which local people continue to perform today, with political and well as religious connotations.

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