At Museum of Prehistory of Nardò there is proof that this town, together with the surrounding area, was the cradle of the evolution of the human lineage with traces found in eight caves with signs of frequentation of both Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens who they have alternated and crossed in the same sites at a distance of millennia or centuries.
At the origin of human history
We can already guess, therefore, that this is an extraordinary ecosystem that Silvia Strafella, head of NOMOS, Heritage Culture Services, which accompanies us on a guided tour speaks to us about, among the display cases of the museum itinerary inside the seventeenth-century former convent of Sant’Antonio di Padova in the heart of the town.
And it is really interesting and also exciting to deepen the knowledge of the relationships between the human species of yesterday, before we were the only direct descendants of Homo Sapiens.
And you’re almost amazed to observe the techniques of working the rocks and hunting large mammals that were used by Neanderthals. And you’re surprised to discover that about 70-75 million years ago, before the penultimate mass extinction, that of the dinosaurs in the period known as the Upper Cretaceous, the territory that today constitutes Puglia was in fact a system of small islands that emerged in warm lagoons and shallow, Bahamas type.
The visit to the Museum offers a journey through time across four sections. The first exhibits a collection of fossil fish and a turtle lived during the Cretaceous and well preserved. But what arouses wonder is the conservation not only of the skeletons but also of the mineralized soft tissues such as skin and muscles that are hardly fossilized.
Furthermore, as Silvia explained to us, the alternation of the various ice ages with the raising and lowering of the sea even tens of meters, has left indelible marks in the coastal area of Nardò which has a rich plant and animal biodiversity testified by fossils of various types and even some that today are typical of the Arctic.
Among the animals there are also the human species to which the second section is dedicated, which tells the evolution of man through casts of skulls belonging to specimens of the order of primates that arrived in Europe from Africa. Like the Sapiens who walked there between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago, and who until 40,000 years ago coexisted with Homo Heidelbergensis and Homo Neanderthalensis, the other species that were already on the same continent.
Wandering around the museum rooms with our Otto, we were impressed not only by the quantity of prehistoric sites in the Neretine territory, but by their continued frequentation over time which is evident from the quality of the artifacts found in the eight caves that tell 150,000 years of history of the man and landscapes.
Starting with those of the Grotta del Cavallo, one of the very first anthropic finds of our species found in Europe so far and frequented first by Neanderthals and then by Sapiens. The presence of both species has also been ascertained in the Uluzzo Carlo Cosma, Uluzzo, Mario Bernardini and Serra Cicora caves, while Capelvenere, Riparo Marcello Zei and Torre dell’Alto were only frequented by Neanderthals.
The importance of these sites is determined precisely by the fact that they represent the places where one of the most important passages of European prehistory took place, that of the transition from Neanderthal man to that of Homo sapiens, which in Porto Selvaggio also lived in parallel but probably never meeting.
This phase of coexistence is one of the uniqueness of this place recognized as a prehistoric district of great importance at international level. Both certainly hunted the same animals with different tools including horses, oxen, donkeys, deer, wild boar but also – as we learned with amazement – rhinos, lions, bears, leopards, wolves, hyenas and birds of prey.
Among the finds kept in the display cases, which most caught our attention, two deciduous teeth of Homo Sapiens dated 45,000 years ago and found in the Grotta del Cavallo.
The Neolithic village of Serra Cicora, on the other hand, is responsible for many of the ceramics with impressed, painted and graffiti decorations housed in the Museum of Prehistory in Nardò, which are one of the oldest Neolithic attestations in Italy.
In a secluded room there are the display cases with what was found in the two Furchiu ti la zappa and Borzatti caves which over time have been “desecrated” by clandestine excavations and waste water discharges so it is difficult to better define stratifications and consequent chronological temporal collocation.
In the last room of the museum are housed the didactic laboratories including the lithic one where you have the opportunity to closely examine and touch some instruments reconstructed with resins that perfectly reproduce the raw material, the typology of the artifacts and the different procedures of making a tool.
We recommend that all those who go to Nardò visit the Museum of Prehistory to better understand our origins and to appreciate the value of our territory which in the Porto Selvaggio area has seen the dawn of humanity.
Museo della Preistoria di Nardò
Info: +39 3496799790 – www.museodellapreistoria.com