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Offerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place: Vaste, Piazza Dante (Puglia, Southern Italy)

Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Archaeological investigations carried out in 1999 in the town centre of Vaste (inland from Otranto, Puglia, Southern Italy) have brought to light a sanctuary dating back to the end of the fourth/ beginning of the third century BC. The holy place appears to have been dedicated to a female deity whose name, Oxxo, is painted on a cup and carved into a stone basin. The sacred area includes a building divided into rooms with replaces and three large underground pits. The two smaller pits served as containers for votive oerings, whereas the largest was used for religious rites, including libations and the sacrice of piglets. On the basis of the combined analysis of artefacts and ecofacts it is possible to distinguish dierent ritual actions and to identify functional dierences in the use of the three underground pits.

Sanctuary; Messapia; ritual actions; votive oerings.

Introduction The study of religious contexts plays a central role in the examination of settlement patterns in Antiquity, in relation to both the occupation of the territory and the transformation of the landscape through the centuries. ` The investigations led by Francesco DAndria (Universita del Salento) on the population of Messapia from the Iron Age to the Roman conquest focus on problems set by the dierent types of contexts: necropolises, residential areas, places of worship, rural houses (DAndria 1988, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2005). A system of cults emerges from the combined analysis of settlements and sacred places, and characterizes Messapia from the Iron Age onwards (Mastronuzzi 2008a: 137). The various aspects of the social and economic life of

World Archaeology Vol. 43(4): 676701 Debates in World Archaeology 2011 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2011.624773

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


the peoples of Salento reect closely the archaeological evidence of the cults and of the religious sphere in general. The landscape of Messapia appears to be marked in a meaningful way by places of worship, although these rarely assume the monumental features characterizing the shrines of Greek and Greek colonial poleis (cities). A wide range of religious contexts are located within inhabited areas, in their immediate surroundings, but also in strategic places, on the coasts or in the proximity of hills. The cults connected to fertility play a central role. Fertility rites aim to protect the crops and the livestock, but naturally also aim to ensure the survival of the community, and in this perspective they show a connection with the cult of the waters and the rites of passage. A precise distinction exists among fertility cults pertinent to male divinities and those addressed to female divinities. Dierences emerge in the spatial organization of the sacred areas and in the ritual of the oerings. In the Archaic Age, for instance, the male cults are connected to enclosures with cippi (orthostats) in limestone, which mark the place destined for oerings and libations (DAndria and Mastronuzzi 2008). The extraordinary variety of votive objects from the place of worship of Monte Papalucio in Oria suggests that the sanctuary was open to the whole community (DAndria 1988: 664); they include modest gifts such as miniature vases and terracotta gurines, alongside valuable objects such as gold jewellery and imported gured vases. In other cases the archaeological evidence seems to indicate, instead, a private destination for the holy places, tied to the dominant aristocratic groups and therefore to forms of religiousness arguably linked to the cult of the ancestors (DAndria 1988: 710). The presence from the eighth century BC of sacred places on the coast, as in Leuca (1978), appears to be connected to the protection of maritime activities, like navigation, shing and trade. Other contexts show a specic connection with activities like weaving, warfare and the freeing of slaves (Mastronuzzi 2008a: 137).

The settlement of Vaste The settlement of Vaste (Puglia, Southern Italy, c.15km inland from Otranto) oers a unique opportunity to conduct a combined analysis of a wide range of typological and chronological contexts. Since 1981, extensive archaeological investigations have been carried out in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia and the Poggiardo Municipal Council (DAndria 1997). The excavations have allowed the identication of the settlements phases and of levels of occupation that can be dated from the protohistoric period to the Middle Ages. Since 2002, it has been possible to undertake an important project of conservation and enhancement of the whole territory of Vaste, through the creation of the Warriors Park, a large ecomuseum designed to protect the archaeological remains as well as the surrounding landscape (DAndria 2008: 4445, 2010). In Messapia, the fourth century BC was a period of rapid and profound transformation, with a considerable demographic increase and a re-organization of the inhabited areas, which were for the rst time surrounded by fortication walls. Through this process the settlement system that originated in the Archaic Age was further developed (DAndria 1988: 691, 1991: 44365). Settlements larger than 100ha, like Ceglie Messapica, Oria,


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 1 Messapia. Fourth-third century


settlements map.

` Rudiae, Nardo, Muro Leccese and Ugento, play a dominant role (Fig. 1). These are surrounded by a number of smaller settlements (50 and 80ha), while even smaller sites (5 15ha) are on the coast to serve as harbours or in the hinterland in locations suitable to control the territory. In Vaste, the building of fortications started in the 50s40s of the fourth century BC, with three construction phases spanning up to the rst half of the third century BC (Mastronuzzi 2008b; Melissano 2008). The city-wall is c. 3350m long and encloses c. 78ha. The Messapian Vaste was therefore a mid-sized settlement. It is not too far from the dominant settlement of Muro Leccese, within a district including also the coastal sites of Otranto and Castro, as well as the small fortied installation of Giuggianello (Semeraro 2009: 3012). The intra-mural space contained dwellings, but also necropolises, as well as areas destined for agricultural and manufacturing activities (Fig. 2). The main cluster of houses occupied the area surrounding the current Piazza Dante, the highest point of the settlement. The dwellings were arranged along an irregular road network based on a preexisting layout and strongly inuenced by the morphology of the ground. In Fondo S. Antonio, together with various housing units, a large L-shaped building has been identied. It was the residence of an aristocratic family and in its proximity a hoard of 150 silver coins has been recovered. The hoard was inside a bronze vase, which had been buried at the time of the Roman conquest of Messapia in the third century BC (DAndria 1996: 42737).

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Figure 2 Map of the Vaste settlement (fourth-third century


The transition of Messapia to Roman rule determined the transformation of the settlements and of the processes of land occupation; the relevant archaeological evidence, rather scarce, refers predominantly to a form of territorial reorganization based on rural clusters (De Mitri 2010: 2938).

The Piazza Dante holy place The religious complex identied in the area of Piazza Dante, at the centre of the ancient residential area, also dates to the fourththird century BC. Extensive investigations were conducted in 1999 following the excavation of trenches for sewer lines (DAndria 2002:


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

567; Mastronuzzi 2005, 2008a: 14752). A large building was brought to light, formed by two adjacent rooms, delimited by walls made of big square blocks of local limestone. In some points up to two courses of these blocks are preserved (Plate 1). The ooring recognized inside the structure is made of crumbled limestone mixed with clay and small stones. Hearths formed by small circles of stones and cooking platforms made of clay have also been found. The absence of roof tiles and of elevation remains suggests that the building had no roof and the walls served only as fences to demarcate spaces for the celebration of specic ritual practices. The western side of the building is delimited by a large wall, the foundations of which were preserved. The wall is made of big irregular stones and square blocks, alternating

Plate 1 Aerial view of the excavation area.

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


with smaller stones. The dierent construction technique suggests that the structure already existed in the Archaic Age, probably with the same function of demarcating sacred spaces. Some layers containing pottery artefacts for ritual use can also be dated to the second half of the sixth and the beginning of the fth century BC (Fig. 3). It is possible to hypothesize that the sacred destination of this central sector of the inhabited area was rst established in the Iron Age. From inside cavities in the bedrock ceramic fragments have been recovered that can be dated between the end of the eighth and the rst half of the seventh century BC (Fig. 4). Related to the place of worship is also a massive altar made of big square blocks. Three large pits dug in the bedrock have been found next to the building. They are big hypogeal rooms with circular or elliptic openings, regularized with blocks or slabs in local stone (Fig. 5). Blocks and slabs are still in place at the opening of Pit 2 and show engraved signs like letters isolated or in short sequences and a swastika. In places the bedrock was cut to facilitate the placement of the blocks. All three hypogea have a bell section and at numerous points tool marks are clearly recognizable on the walls; the bottom, with a circular plan, has a concave surface and small ssures along the break of slope. The pits were created by enlarging natural ssures in the rock. These are the result of moderate karst erosion, and might have suggested the possibility of a direct contact with the underground world. Pit 3, the largest of the three, is c. 3m wide and 3m deep. Its cover was formed by slabs and blocks. One of these blocks has been found upright inside a ssure, adjacent and connected to the main one. At the base of the main ssure a slab in local stone with a central hole was stuck into sterile reddish clayey soil. The opening of Pit 3 is framed by a

Figure 3 Selection of Greek archaic pottery (from the second half of the sixth to the rst quarter of the fth century BC).


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 4 Selection of Iron Age pottery (Salento Late GeometricSalento Sub-Geometric; Corinthian Late GeometricEarly ProtoCorinthian; from the end of the eighth to the rst half of the seventh century BC).

couple of benches facing each other. The large dimensions suggest that the hypogeum was periodically accessible for the performance of religious rites near the pierced slab, which served essentially as a hypogeal altar. Signicant quantities of ceramic artefacts, either intact or capable of virtually complete reassembly, were found in the pits. Among these artefacts are locally or regionally produced vases for daily use, well attested in Vaste and other Messapian settlements. Exceptions in this respect are the miniature vases, found almost exclusively in sacred areas. The cooking ware is

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Figure 5 Messapic phase map.

made in a particular impasto (impure clay with silica content) that includes bauxite grains. Cooking pots show clear traces of use, which are perhaps referable to a single use. The combined examination of stratigraphy and nds allowed a reconstruction of the holy place (Figs 6 and 7). Pit 1 Substantial traces of re exposure have been identied on the walls of Pit 1. These traces must be associated to the deposits of charcoal found in the central area. It is hypothesized


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 6 Reconstruction of the holy place.

that, initially, res were repeatedly lit and cleaned inside the cavity, so that charcoal remained concentrated at the centre of the room or dispersed towards its edges. In a later period, the res inside the hypogea were replaced by hearths within the enclosures. The progressive lling of the pit can be explained as a by-product of this change of use: it is the result of a series of secondary deposits due to the ritual actions carried out in the enclosures. This pits deposits had dierent colours, compactions and compositions. They contained functional ceramic and miniature vases, as well as faunal and botanical remains. The positioning of the vases, mostly consisting of open shapes and miniature items placed upside-down, is characteristic of votive deposits known in chthonic cults, where the gift is directly oered to the divinity. Several groups of vases were protected by tiles placed above and all around them (Fig. 8). At the bottom of the pit, the recorded contexts were not in primary position. In fact, they contained groups of objects originally

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Figure 7 Reconstruction of rituals in Pit 3.

used during the celebrations in the sacred area and then displaced. The loose compaction characterizing the soil from all these deposits is consistent with this interpretation. Walter Burkert (1984: 2928) has analysed the main aspects of chthonic cults by comparing them with those characterizing Olympian cults. The ways in which the oerings were deposited in Pit 1 recall similar situations in Greek holy places with chthonic connotations, such as the Thesmophorion of Bitalemi near Gela (Orlandini 1966: 224) and the shrine of Mollarella-Poliscia near Licata (De Miro 2008: 834), both in Sicily, as well as the shrine of San Nicola di Albanella near Poseidonia-Paestum (Cipriani and Ardovino 1991: 33941) and the sacred area near the archaic temple in Eraclea (Pianu 1991: 202), Southern Italy. The ceramic shapes found in Pit 1 belong to a selected morphological range, dominated by vases for the consumption of liquid and semi-liquid foods (ring-handled cups and onehandled cups) and miniature vases. They also include pots, unguentaria, jugs and large bowls. The presence of other shapes like lamps is sporadic. Among the pots, the presence of small Greek-derived chytrai and Latin-derived jars (ollae) is especially meaningful. Some vases show letters painted before ring. In particular a ring-handled cup features the name of the goddess Oxxo in the genitive case, which is also recorded on a stone artefact (Fig. 9). Statistical analysis shows that the most frequent ceramic assemblage is composed


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 8 Detailed mid-excavation plan of the deposits in Pit 1.

of ring-handled cup, miniature vase, pot, one-handled cup and also small one-handled cups, dishes and jugs (Fig. 10 and Table 1). This fact can be interpreted in relation to characteristic ritual actions. The pots, mostly of small size, could be used for cooking semiliquid foods like vegetables soups or dense mixtures of cereal and legume ours. These foods were eaten from one-handled cups and dishes. Ring-handled cups and small cups were used for drinking or oering libations. Finally miniature vases were symbolic gifts to the god. In the cases of the lekythoi and the unguentaria, the oering consisted of both the container and its contents. The upper levels of the pits ll relate to the phases of abandonment and obliteration and yielded fragments of a slab in local limestone, alongside pottery that can be dated between the second half of the third and the rst half of the second century BC. The top face of the slab has mouldings running along the four sides to delimit a lowered surface with through-holes on the longitudinal axis (Fig. 11). The data emerging from the artefactual analysis must be combined with those from the examination of archaeozoological and archaeobotanical remains. While sheep/goat and pigs are well represented (thirteen and ten individuals, respectively: De Grossi Mazzorin and

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Figure 9 Banded ring-handled cup and stone artefact, both inscribed.

Figure 10 Pit 1 vase assemblage.

Solinas 2010: table 1), particularly interesting is the identication of at least ve dogs, whose bones were disarticulated. The only skull that has been found shows morphological analogies with the Barbone (poodle), the Norsk Dunker and the Schnauzer, while the analysis


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Table 1 Pottery from Pit 1: artefact count by shape and votive deposit (the shading shows prevailing assemblages of functional shapes) Small Other oneOneopen Lekythos/ handled handled cup. Dish Jug unguentarium Lamp shapes cup ... .. .. .. . . . .. . .. . .... . .. . ... . . . ... .. . . . .. .. . . . . 27 16 13 11 10 9 9 9 8 8 7 6 6 3 2 144

Ringhandled Miniature cup vase 149 156 150 147 161 158 152 151 160 146 163 155 153 159 154 .... .... . ... .... ... ... .. ..... . ... . .. 42 . .. . .. . ... .. . .. ... . ..

Pot .... . . .. .. .

. . . .. . . .. . . .

. .. .. . 16 10





Figure 11 Limestone slab (Pit 1).

of the postcranial skeleton assigns the Vaste dogs to an average and well-proportioned dog type, comparable in height to the Canis dingo but standing on relatively quite frail limbs like a Doberman (Coppola 2005: 30710; see also De Grossi Mazzorin and Minniti 2002). No

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


bone shows butchering marks or other tool marks. Since the nding of these bones within the deposits indicates a connection with worship practices, it is possible to hypothesize that the dogs were immolated by cutting their throats. This possibility seems to be conrmed by the pierced slab, perhaps destined for blood sacrices where the blood of the victims had to ow down to chthonic divinities, as in the shrine of the chthonic divinities in Agrigento, Sicily (De Miro 2008: 80) and near Cyrene, Libya (Luni 1991: 158). The botanical remains from Pit 1 show wide taxonomic variability (Girolamo Fiorentino, pers. comm.). Olive and oak predominate among charcoal remains, representing 53 per cent and 20 per cent of the total, respectively. Carpo-remains are characterized by a predominance of vetch (Vicia ervilia; 64.8 per cent), with smaller amounts of grapes (5.6 per cent), legumes (8.4 per cent) and cereals (14 per cent). Especially signicant, as it represents c. 60 per cent of all the pips, is the concentration of vetch in the central part of Pit 1 (US 150). Mineralized grape seeds were found inside some of the vases. As mineralization is a consequence of immersion in an organic liquid, the oering of must or grape juice can be hypothesized. Pit 2 The deposits found in Pit 2, like those at the bottom of Pit 1, appear to be in secondary position, as suggested by the fragmentation of the ceramic artefacts (Fig. 12). Statistical analysis shows that the most frequent assemblage is composed of an oinochoe, a ringhandled cup, a small one-handled cup and a pot, accompanied by jugs, miniature vases and skyphoi (Fig. 13 and Table 2). The oinochoe, absent from Pit 1, is present in two dierent types, both with trilobate rim. One has an ovoid body and is attested in black gloss and over-painted wares, while the other has a cylindrical body and is present in locally produced pottery. This second type seems connected to the ritual sphere, as already attested in the archaic layers of the sanctuary of Monte Papalucio in Oria (DAndria 1990: 269, n. 113) and in other religious contexts in Vaste. Votive deposits including olpai have recently been found in the Thesmophorion of Contrada Parapezza in Locri (Milanesio Macr` 2010: 3401). As in Pit 1, the evidence from Pit 2 suggests a link between vase types and ritual actions: in particular oinochoai, ring-handled cups, small one-handled cups and skyphoi all seem to refer to libation practices. The presence of pots is probably to be connected with the preparation of ritual meals while the absence of Latin-derived jars suggests that the deposits in Pit 2 are more ancient than those in Pit 1. Moreover, each artefact type in Pit 2 tends to be bigger in size than its equivalent in Pit 1. The hypothesis that libation rituals took place in Pit 2 appears to be supported by the presence, immediately above the rocky bottom of the feature, of a layer of compact light yellow sandy soil, which might have contained traces of oxidized milk, honey, etc. Deposits with similar characteristics, interpreted as remains of libations, are known from religious contexts in Pomarico Vecchio (Barra Bagnasco 1997: 20) and Pizzica Pantanello (Carter 1994: 193) in Basilicata. Animal and plant remains also dier markedly from those found in Pit 1. In Pit 2, bones (of cattle, sheep and pig) are less frequent and dogs are totally absent (De Grossi Mazzorin


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 12 Detailed mid-excavation plan of deposits in Pit 2.

and Solinas 2010: table 3). Seeds in Pit 2 are much rarer, while charcoal presents limited taxonomical variability with a predominance of heather (32 per cent) and olive (29 per cent), and a very small quantity of oak (4 per cent). Pit 3 The stratigraphy of Pit 3 diered from that of the smaller hypogea. At the bottom, a pavement of crumbled limestone was found. This pavement was in turn overlaid by a series of thin occupation layers. They contained pottery sherds and a lot of charcoal and animal bones. Among the artefacts, a female limestone head (12cm high) deserves to be mentioned. It shows traces of brown, yellow and pink pigments and can be interpreted as part of the cult statue of a goddess called Oxxo (Plate 2). Although its small size would suggest otherwise, this hypothesis is supported by the fact that the head is made in stone, rather than in the terracotta normally used for votive gurines. Francesco DAndria (2002: 57) has underlined stylistic similarities with some gured capitals from Brindisi (DAndria 1979:

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Figure 13 Pit 2 vase assemblage.

gs 55961; Via Appia 1997: 1212). They belong to a large group of Apulian Hellenistic sculptures, which also includes gured capitals from San Leucio in Canosa (Pensabene 1992: 628, nn. 34), capitals from the Ipogeo della Medusa in Arpi (Mazzei 1995: 108, n. 59) and also the statues from Ariccia in Latium (Orlandini 1983: gs 5503).


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Table 2 Pottery from Pit 2: artefact count by shape and votive deposit (the shading shows prevailing assemblages of functional shapes) Small one- RingCup/ handled handled Miniature small Oinochoe cup cup Pot vase Jug Skyphos Hydria Lamp Lid cup 261 267 263 268 256 266 262 273 257 264 258 259 ... ..... ... ... ... . .. . . . .... . .. .. . ... .. ... .. .. ... . ... . . . . 22 12 12 . 8 6 6 3 2 2 2 2 ... . . .. . . . . . .. .. . . . . 19 13 10 10 8 6 5 2 1 1 1 1 77

Plate 2 Limestone female head (Pit 3).

The occupation layers of Pit 3 also yielded a Charonia tritonis (Plate 3), a big shell that could have been used as a musical instrument. Other ndings of Charonia tritonis have occurred in areas dedicated to the cult of Demeter in Timmari (Lo Porto 1991: 18990) and Eraclea (Otto 2008: 889) in Basilicata. As for the pottery, the occupation layers contained a high number of ring-handled cups, alongside some pots, small one-handled cups and miniature vases. The layers of backll, dating to the beginning of the second century BC onwards, are instead characterized by a predominant presence of dishes. They also contain a substantial group of trozzelle (vases

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Plate 3 Charonia tritonis (Pit 3).

typically found in Messapian female burials: Giannotta and Melissano 2010; Yntema 1990: 3357; and some jugs (Fig. 14 and Table 3). Big open shapes, such as large bowls and mortars with lithic inclusions at the bottom, are present too. Unlike the situation in Pits 1 and 2, no particular associations of functional shapes were found, and the range of shapes from the layers of backll in Pit 3 does not seem to be the result of intentional selection determined by ritual behaviours. Nevertheless this pottery record provides some insight into the possible set up of the area around the pit entrance. As the objects thrown into the pit are likely to come from the surroundings, the presence of dishes and trozzelle could be connected with practices taking place in this specic area of the holy place, which perhaps hosted the statue of the divinity. Trozzelle, indeed, are absent from the other pits and only Pit 1 contained a few dishes. Several dishes and some trozzelle are made in the typical reclay normally used in the production of cooking ware, perhaps because of their specic use as votive oerings. The same is true for a pyxis and an attingitoio (sort of spoon-mug). As for the faunal remains (De Grossi Mazzorin and Solinas 2010:table 5), Pit 3 contained a lot of sheep and goats (twenty-four individuals), alongside some pigs (thirteen individuals); seven of the pigs were newborns or young piglets. The charcoal shows very little taxonomic variability: olive represents 65.5 per cent and oak 33.5 per cent, with the remaining 1 per cent including Pomoideae, rhamnus and heather. Seeds belong predominantly to cereals (59 per cent) and olives (30 per cent) (Solinas 2008). The data from the archaeobotanical remains in Pit 3 are closely mirrored by those from one of the hearths inside the enclosures, whose charcoal included olive (51 per cent), Pomoideae (8 per cent), oak (12 per cent), pine (2 per cent), heather (3 per cent), rhamnus (2 per cent) and lentisc (5 per cent), while pips include olives (21.1 per cent), legumes ` (12.2 per cent) and cereals (66.7 per cent) (Fiorentino and Marino, pers. comm.).


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 14 Pit 3 vase assemblage.

Discussion and conclusions The adoption of Colin Renfrews methodological approaches (Renfrew 1985; Renfrew and Bahn 1991: 35862) has been rather slow in Greek archaeology, and cases of contextual analysis of the archaeological record from places of worship are still quite rare (see, e.g., contributions in Alcock and Osborne 1994; Hagg et al. 1988; Marinatos and Hagg 1993). Excellent examples are the studies coordinated by Nancy Bookidis on the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore in Corinth (Bookidis 2008, and references therein) and,

Table 3 Pottery from Pit 3: artefact count by shape (underlined numbers indicate occupation layers, the shading shows prevailing assemblages of functional shapes)

Dish .. .. . . . . . . .....


Ringhandled cup Pot Miniature vase Lid Jug Lamp

Small onehandled cup Cup/ small cup

Other closed shapes ..

Small open shape

Big open shape

......... ... ... ..... .. . . ... ... ... . ....

........ .. .... .. . . ... .

.... ... . .... .. ...

.. .. ... .. .

. . ... .

... . .. . . .

.. . ..

. .


. . ...


. . . . . 19 18 11 9 8 6/5 6 5

. . .

370 372 375 374 363 364 376 378 366 367 368 377 369 365

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


29 23 17 16 14 14 15 6 2 2 2 2 1 1 142



Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

in Southern Italy, those by Marina Cipriani (1989) on the shrine of San Nicola di Albanella and by Massimo Osanna on Satriano (Osanna and Sica 2005), but, previously, the study of sanctuaries tended to be limited to the analysis of monuments or selected categories of nds and the reconstruction of rituals was often based exclusively on literary sources. The examination of a Hellenistic archaeological site located in an area near Greece, but at the same time characterized by a specic cultural identity lends itself to methodological reection. The objective is the recognition and reconstruction of ritual actions through the systematic collection and the careful interpretation of archaeological data. In this view, it is essential to exploit and compare the information obtained through the analysis of all categories of nds. The chthonic nature of the cult linked to fertility is very evident, especially in relation to the hypogea, where oerings of vases were placed upside-down alongside seeds and rstlings. This chthonic interpretation is also supported by the presence of the pierced slab at the bottom of the biggest pit (Plate 4). The object of worship was a goddess named Oxxo, whose image is preserved in the limestone head. Her characteristics are very close to those of the Greek Demetra, as shown by the oerings of agricultural products and especially by the sacrice of piglets. The cult of Demeter is well known in Messapia (Mastronuzzi 2008a). Excavations at the sanctuary of Monte Papalucio in Oria have brought to light complex evidence of her cult, including inscriptions mentioning the names Mtar, Damtra and the epithet Z yeo& : (DAndria 1990: 2723). In the Hellenistic Age, many funerary inscriptions from Messapian settlements quote the substantive tabara priestess in association with the names of the goddesses Demetra and Aphrodite (De Simone 1982). The fact that the goddess in Vaste was called by a completely dierent name (Oxxo) suggests that the cult there acquired very specic features, as conrmed by other aspects of the archaeological evidence. The Greek connotation of the same cult in Oria, clearly evident in the clay gurines found there (DAndria 1990: 24053), is an explicit cultural reference to the nearby Greek colonial cities of Taranto and Metaponto. This reference can be explained in the

Plate 4 The mouth of Pit 3.

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


light of the processes of selective acquisition hypothesized by Grazia Semeraro (1997: 362) and Gert-Jan Burgers (1998: 2978) whereby prominent social groups selectively import innovative practices in order to stress their dominance over the rest of the community. Recent investigations show that fertility rites are archaeologically recognizable from the Iron Age in Vaste. The relevant evidence is comparable with that from the holy place near the Grotta Porcinara at Leuca. Through the centuries worship practices were enriched with features coming from Greece, such as ablutions, libations and sacred meals. During the third century BC, political and social events connected with the Roman conquest led to the acquisition of new central-Italic cultural models. The archaeological evidence shows these new inuences in the use of cooking jars hitherto unknown in Messapia, in the limestone sculpture and also in the sacrice of dogs. The importance of the archaeological evidence in the reconstruction of the ritual system clearly emerges from the comparison of the three pits. The dierences in terms of artefacts and ecofacts reect closely those highlighted by the structural and stratigraphic analyses (Mastronuzzi 2005: 23940). It can be argued that the biggest pit could have served as a hypogeum for the celebration of rituals, including libations through the pierced slab, as well as blood and bloodless sacrices. There, sacrices of animals took place alongside oerings of rst fruits such as pomegranates, grapes and cereals on dishes. The archaeological evidence, on the whole, characterizes the pit as a megaron, an underground space where men experience a particularly direct form of contact with fertility gods through the oering and deposition of gifts (Burkert 1984: 352; Giammatteo 2001: 117). The two smaller pits dier from the main one because of a series of structural features, but also because of the presence in them of votive deposits, although in a secondary position. The composition of the vase assemblages may reect specic ritual actions (Fig. 15). In Pit 1 the assemblage ring-handled cup/pot/one-handled cup can be referred to a sacred meal, as supported by the substantial presence of legumes (while in Pit 3 there is a predominance of cereals) and by other features indicative of combustion processes such as charcoal and burnt stones. There is evidence of meals in honour of the deity, but also of sacrices of sheep, goats, pigs and even, signicantly, dogs. No dog remains were found in Pit 2, where the overall presence of animal bones is scarce. The almost complete absence of pips and fruits from deposits corresponds to an assemblage of functional shapes oinochoe/ring-handled cup (skyphos)/small one-handled cup, which can be referred to libation rituals. Moreover, in this case, pots and charcoal also provide evidence of ritual meals. The charcoal remains in Pit 2 come from heather and myrtle, while in the other pits a prevalence of olive and oak was recorded. Where burnt seeds and fruits are concerned, Girolamo Fiorentino has highlighted a very meaningful feature: the taxa recorded in the three pits vine, g, pomegranate, olive, myrtle and walnut all ripen in autumn. Albeit cereals and legumes ripen in spring or summer, those found in the pits do not show signs of parasitic attacks, which means that they must have been oered and burnt shortly after the harvest. This suggests that the autumn season held a central position in the agricultural and ritual calendar: like the Greeks (Vian 1993: 523), during this season the Messapians made oerings in order to obtain divine protection for their crops.


Giovanni Mastronuzzi and Paolo Ciuchini

Figure 15 Pottery from Pits 1, 2 and 3: artefact count by shape.

Acknowledgements Many thanks to Professor Francesco DAndria for the advice and enthusiastic support provided during the analysis of the archaeological remains. We also thank Professors Jacopo De Grossi Mazzorin and Girolamo Fiorentino, who lead archaeozoological and ` palaeobotanical investigations at the Universita del Salento, for making available unpublished data. Artefact drawings: F. Malinconico. Maps and plans: Arch. F. Ghio. Photos: Archivio Dipartimento di Beni Culturali (g. 11: P. Pulli; g. 14: M. Vantaggiato).

Oerings and rituals in a Messapian holy place


Fig. 1: Web-GIS degli insediamenti, Laboratorio di Informatica per lArcheologia, ` Universita del Salento, B. Pecere; gs 67: concept: F. DAndria; drawing: InkLink Ltd., Florence. Authorship: Introduction and The settlement of Vaste by Paolo Ciuchini, The Piazza Dante holy place and Discussion and conclusions by Giovanni Mastronuzzi. Giovanni Mastronuzzi Dipartimento di Beni Culturali, Universita` del Salento, Italy giovanni.mastronuzzi@unisalento.it Paolo Ciuchini University College Dublin, Ireland References
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` Giovanni Mastronuzzi is Researcher in Classical Archaeology at the Universita del Salento (Lecce). He has led excavations in Italy and Turkey, and is editor of the materials resulting from those excavations. He has introduced scientic investigations into the archaeology of cults in Southern Italy at international symposia. Paolo Ciuchini is a PhD researcher at University College Dublin (School of Archaeology). By working on a number of projects in Italy, Turkey and Ireland, he has gained wide international experience in both the academic and commercial sector of archaeology. His research interests include classical archaeology, Irish archaeology and archaeological heritage management.

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