For the whole of June and the latter half of July 1999 I participated in the excavation of the lower palaeolithic site of Isernia La Pineta, at Isernia, Molise, Italy. The excavation was held by the University of Ferrara, Italy.
Isernia La Pineta is probably the oldest inhabited site site in Italy discovered so far, having been dated to 736,000 (±40,000) years ago. The site is assumed to have been occupied by Homo erectus, who is now generally believed not to have been a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, but rather an evolutionary cousin. While no hominid remains have been found at Isernia there have been a large number of stone tools and an impressive quantity of animal remains unearthed at the site.
The bones found show signs of having been butchered using stone tools. There are grooves and scratches from the cutting off of muscle, and many long bones have been systematically broken for the removal of the marrow. Remains have been found of many large mammals, including prehistoric species of elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, lion, bison, elk, bear, boar, and thar. Smaller animals include various rodents and hares.
The stone tools found are of a basic nature. Most are cutting or scraping tools and very few have been retouched. This has been attributed to the poor quality of the flint in the area, resulting in an opportunistic approach to tool manufacture; i.e. a stone would be struck and any useful flakes would be used as is, without further working.
The large number of worked bones and tools in a small area has led to the belief that Homo erectus used the area, a site next to a river at that time, as a place to bring the corpses of hunted animals to be butchered.
As well as excavating, sieving, washing, and sorting, I also helped in the making of a cast of the palaeo-surface, conserving and restoring bones, and various "site" activities like building the excavation grid.
Elephant tooth and rib already excavated
More elephant bones being excavated