Grotta di Fumane is a cave set on the southern edge of the Veneto Pre-Alps, in the North of Italy.
It has produced a dated sequence for the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic. Excavations have been carried out at different times and at variable extension since 1988 beyond the present-day drip-line and in the cave entrance, an area where Middle and Upper Palaeolithic levels with well-preserved Mousterian and Aurignacian living-floors have been brought to light in a good state of preservation.
To challenge the crucial, cognitive and behavioural difference between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, archaeological evidence must be produced from reliable sites. This is the case of Grotta di Fumane, which belongs to a fossil karst complex system probably composed of several cavities and tunnels excavated in dolomitic limestone.
The present-day morphology of this site is a result of the combined action of huge collapses which during the Late Pleistocene affected the massive rock banks and the dismantling phases mostly caused by freezing and thawing. After a first exploration carried out by the Natural History Museum of Verona in 1964, the site has been the object of a new series of investigations since 1988, bringing to light an impressive sequence of Middle and Upper Paleolithic levels. The sequence documents the main climatic events which occurred during the last glacial cycle from 90.000 to 30.000 years ago and affected the human settlement.
Excavations at Fumane
Excavations are conducted on a regular basis every year by the University of Ferrara under the patronage of the Superintendence for the Archeological Heritage. After an ancient landslide which completely obstructed the external vault was removed in 1996, a sheltered area of almost 60 sq m was brought to light and extensive digging began, with the aim of investigating evidence of the last Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern humans.Grotta di Fumane makes this possible, thanks to the abundance of well preserved remains in several finely stratified archaeological layers.
Thousands of flint flakes and cores, bones, teeth, charcoal, worked pebbles, bone retouchers and hammers prove that Neanderthals lighted fire, manufactured stone tools, butchered ungulates, carnivores and birds, and treated hides and pelts.
From the Aurignacian up, dwelling structures, lithic assemblages, bone and antler tools, painted stones and pierced molluscan shells mark the arrival of the first Anatomically Modern Humans into this region with a clear discontinuity with the former cultural entities.
Neverheless, the archeological evidence prove that also Neanderthals achieved a level of behavioral complexity that was not culturally transmitted or mimicked via incoming modern humans. More Information
The cave is now open to the public after security measures have been implemented in 2005. Visitors are allowed to the entrance of the cave also when archaeological fieldwork takes place and view the sections showing the finely layered Paleolithic sequence.
Not far away, at the village of Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo, a selection of the most relevant findings is permanently exhibited at the Palaeontological and Archaeological Museum.