1. Prehistory and protohistory in the Bergamo area

From the Neolithic to the Bronze Age

The Bergamo area has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Some of the oldest finds kept in the Archaeology Museum are polished stone axes found in Mozzanica, which probably date to the Early Neolithic. Recent finds from Calcinate discovered during work for an irrigation canal between the rivers Serio and Cherio are of Middle Neolithic date: stone axes and potsherds, as well as grave goods from a burial in a simple grave-cut.

The Copper Age is documented by a number of finds from collective burials in caves, such as that at Aviatico: pottery and ornamental objects, among which a necklace of pig/boar teeth and a number of discoid and flanged calcite beads stand out. Two polished stone hammer-axes come from Castione della Presolana and Fornovo San Giovanni. Copper Age metallurgy is represented by three flat copper axes found in the Bergamo area which are some of the oldest known from northern Italy.

Late Copper Age (second half of the 3rd millennium BC) finds from Calcinate, potsherds and chipped stone tools, are attributable to the Bell Beaker Culture and were discovered at the site of a probable settlement.

The Bronze Age is documented by bronze axes. That from Lovere dates to the beginning of the period, while the three specimens from Costa di Monticelli are from the end of the Early Bronze Age (around 1600 BC). The latter constituted a ‘hoard’; we do not know if they were buried by a metalworker who intended to recover them later or were a votive offering.

Early Iron Age

During the Early Iron Age populations of different lineages and cultures lived in the Bergamo area: people of the Golasecca culture, of Celtic origin, occupied the Po Plain up to the River Serio to the east and probably also the Brembana valley; their main settlement was on the Bergamo hills. The Seriana valley, on the other hand, was inhabited by peoples of central-Alpine culture, the Euganei.

Excavations in Bergamo’s Upper Town have documented the presence of a stable settlement during the Final Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. In the 6th and 5th BC the entire hill group was occupied by a Golasecca Celtic settlement. Among the pottery and bronze finds of this period there are some fragments of Attic pottery which indicate that luxury items were imported from Greece.

Most of the evidence regarding the Golasecca culture comes from cemeteries of cremation burials: the burnt remains and personal ornaments were put in urns, next to which were placed everyday and ritual items, pottery and weapons. The oldest tombs are those in Ponte San Pietro, from which only bronze objects were recovered; these date to the 10th-8th century BC, i.e. the final part of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.

The majority of Golasecca Culture finds are of 6th-5th century BC date: burial grounds have been found at Verdello, Zanica, Osio Sopra, Fornovo San Giovanni and (most notably) Brembate Sotto, indicating the existence of small villages in the nearby. The positions of these small settlements seem to lie on roads that connected Bergamo to Como and the Etruscan Po Plain territories.

The Parre hoard was of a non-funerary nature, consisting of more than 1000 kg of bronze (ingots, broken and misshapen objects) intended for remelting, buried by a metalworker in the late 6th or early 5th century BC and never recovered.

Late Iron Age

In the 4th century BC Celtic groups from north of the Alps, known as Gauls, invaded Italy, occupying certain territories until the 1st century BC. Their culture is named La Tène after the Swiss site where the first discoveries were made. With few exceptions, archaeological evidence regarding the Gauls in the Bergamo area is limited to the 2nd and 1st century BC, i.e. the Romanization period, when conquered local populations gradually adopted Roman customs and cultural models. This phenomenon emerges very clearly from grave goods, in which Celtic items are found alongside those demonstrating Roman influence.

A small graveyard has recently been excavated in Calcinate; the two oldest tombs date to the second half of the 1st century BC. In one of these a woman and a child were buried, as attested by both the grave goods and analysis of the skeletal remains. Among the pottery vases deposited inside this burial, one form stands out that combines in a single object the ‘spinning top’ flagon used in the Gallic world for containing wine, and the ‘olpe’, a type of jug characteristic of Roman pottery productions. It is thus a hybrid vase, material evidence of the passage from late La Tène to Roman culture.

Contemporary to the two Calcinate burials is a tomb discovered in Misano Gera d’Adda, belonging to the head of a small local community. Among the grave goods there are some objects linked to Roman customs, evidence of the Romanization process and the desire for integration with the new society of this person of Celtic origin: a silver mirror, bronze strigils (used especially by Greek and Roman athletes to scrape oil and dirt from their skin) and a precious alabaster ointment container. However, other grave goods are typical objects of Gaulish tradition such as a sword, a ‘spinning top’ flagon, a pilgrim’s flask and an Aylesford-type pan, underlining that the dead person belonged to the Celtic world.