The Copper Age layers
The Copper Age layers of Grotta La Sassa have yielded around 1000 zooarchaeological remains. Only 288 could be attributed to species/taxon, with slightly less than half the identified specimens belonging to dog/wolf. This evidence shows that the stratigraphy has most likely been disturbed through the centuries by a massive intrusion of canid bones, which is even more dramatic in the Bronze Age deposits.
The rest of the assemblage consists of 20% of domestic caprines, 15% of pig, an important 8% made of reed deer and another 3% by cattle. Turtles, fox and amphibians, which might have entered the cave spontaneously or have been brought inside by other predators, constitute the remaining 7%.
The Bronze age layers
The Bronze Age layers of the cave have so far revealed the presence of more than 1000 faunal remains, 414 of which have been identified by species/taxon.
While the large predominance of dog/wolf remains, one of which radiocarbon dated to the late Middle Ages, indicate the possible intrusion of later animal bones in at least the most superficial layers, the rest of the finds are consistent with the usual Bronze Age trends.
Domestic species such as sheep/goat, followed by pigs, make together more than 70% of the total. Red deer is a close third, with cattle, turtle, hare, fox and other small mammals completing the assemblage.
If some of them, such as fox, marten and even hare might have entered the cave independently from the anthropic occupation (no cut or fire marks have been currently identified on their bones), the domesticate species and the abundant deer seem to have been directly introduced by humans – either for exclusively subsistence-related reasons or in the context of ritual practices.
Ongoing analyses will focus on taphonomy, kill-off patterns, paleo-dietary behaviours and cultural selections, shedding light on the relations between humans and animals during these two key phases of later prehistory.