Northern Italian regions south of the Alps show the evolution of Final Neolithic attributes to the earliest western Proto-Beaker package before ca. 2500 BC, which did not include wristguards, copper knives, ornaments of amber, and showed scarce arrowheads or V-buttons (using instead flat or round beads), but did include anthropomorphic stelae, such as those found in Sion and Aosta. Eventually, the eastern or Classical Beaker ideology imposed itself after ca. 2500 BC (ca. 2425 BC for Sion and Aosta), quickly and violently if we take the destruction of stelae by incoming groups as a representation of the wider social and cultural struggle between groups, which ended in the overthrowing of early Beaker peoples by the new immigrants (Harrison and Heyd 2007).
This province is associated with the rivers draining into the Po south of the Alps, and had thus links to the East Bell Beaker group to the north through the Danube; to the northern groups through the Rhine; and to western and south-western groups through the Rhône. Remedello societies of the north and Rinaldone in the west, heirs of the warrior ideology that had expanded earlier with the Yamna package (see §VI.2. The Transformation of Europe), were more receptive to Beaker novelties. Although the Alps have been considered a natural and cultural barrier since Roman times, they worked during prehistory as a bridge between central European and Mediterranean cultures (Harrison and Heyd 2007).
Northern Italy belonged thus from the very beginning, together with the East Bell Beaker groups, and possibly also the Middle-Elbe Saale region, to the core area of the expanding Classical Bell Beaker phenomenon (after ca. 2500 BC), reflected in the appearance of distinctive ornaments and fittings of polished shell to the south. However, after this disruptive and expansive Middle Bell Beaker period, later phases of the Bell Beaker culture reflect a reduction in range and volume. The Northern Italian EBA (starting ca. 2300/2200 BC) began probably delayed compared with south-central Hungary, through connections with innovations and ideas from the Adriatic. Communities showed new equipment, burial rules (the first proper individual graves), and material culture including globular cups and bone, shell, and metal jewellery, apart from pithoi graves of children (Heyd 2013).
Northern Italian groups resumed then their traditional contacts with the south and west, continuing customs of Beaker burials, as well as new fashions of dress and ornament introduced from a wide area of northern Italy, especially the Polada culture, which shows the beginning of its classical stage by the introduction of wetland and lakeside settlement sites ca. 2100 BC, with rich metal inventory including typical flanged axes, triangular daggers, and various forms of jewellery (Heyd 2013).
Polada marks an increase in population and settlement, and a remarkable expansion starting around the southern banks of Lake Garda and the small lakes in the neighbouring morainic hills, eventually covering large areas of northern Italy and influencing neighbouring regions. Such an increase results in two main settlement models: pile–dwellings and Terramara villages (Palafitte and Terramare), the latter probably representing an expansion of settlements to the plain, into the Po, southern Trentino, eastern Lombardy, and eastern Veneto (Nicolis 2013).
This culture shows a mix of East Bell Beakers from the Danubian cultures and a local substratum which continues the previous Copper Age traditions, like the Remedello culture. In the later phase, Polada was also affected by Danubian cultures, and a real population influx has been suggested, given the evidence from Gata–Wieselburg group in sites of eastern Veneto. Metallurgy was similar to the Únětice cultural area. In the east-central Alps, the Inner Alpine group inherits characteristics from the late Alpine EBA—such as wing-head pins (a variant of the disc-head pins), and pottery with plastic cordon applications—displaying a noticeable influence from the Terramare complex throughout the MBA and LBA (della Casa 2013).
Figure 49. Terramara di Montale (Modena), abitazioni ricostruite. Photograph by Reever, image from Wikipedia.
Simple graves, often primary burials, are normally grouped in small cemeteries, but there are examples of double or triple burials. Tombs are covered by stones, and bodies placed in a flexed position on one side, orientated in a north–south direction or vice versa (Nicolis 2013). The offerings continued in these sites ca. 2100–1850, including lighting fires and piling more stones on previously used cairns, but burials were remade again around 1800 BC. All these developments point probably to an emphasis on the legendary antiquity of a lineage, where it was important for the EBA elite to be associated physically with the founding members of the community, even if that connection was not real (Harrison and Heyd 2007).
Pile–dwellings were built both in the water, on the lake bank, and on dry land, and there is continuity of settlements—with minor shifts—in the original region of Polada until the Late Bronze Age. During the Middle Bronze Age, the Terramara phenomenon expanded, starting ca. 1700/1650 BC, with large settlements with banks and fortifications spreading from the Po plain south to the Apennines, constituting a genuine colonisation of areas that peaks ca. 1550/1500 BC (Bernabò Brea 2009).
Materials, especially pottery, belong to the late Poladian and pile-dwelling periods, the Grotta Nuova finds from central Italy, and to a lesser extent elements from the western area. Structures built directly on the ground with apses belong more to the peninsular than to the plain, where houses are built on raised platforms, as in the pile-dwelling settlements (Cardarelli 2009). Settlements were small (1-2 ha), built on dry land, housing 100–200 people, and new farming techniques are seen, such as plough pulled by animals, crop rotation, and stabling.
Social organisation includes elite areas within individual settlements, but no hierarchical distinctions are made between the different settlements, so they probably formed confederations of villages (Bernabò Brea 2009). During the MBA and LBA, only cremation is used in the west, but it is combined with inhumation in the east. Remains of the dead were placed in urns, generally covered with a bowl and placed in small shallow pits, without burnt earth, and with scarce goods if any. In the case of inhumations, bodies were placed in flat graves, usually in a supine position (Nicolis 2013).
The LBA or Peschiera phase (1350/1300–1200 BC) shows the maximum development of pile–dwelling villages, with true centres of production and commerce in bronze objects, as well as the standardisation of objects and circulation of metal products on a continental scale. At the same time, settlements begin to differentiate within the context of a population increase and economic development, with some villages being abandoned, others extended (up to 20 ha, housing up to 1000 people), and others constructed anew. Dwellings are structured like ‘pile–dwellings on dry land’(Bernabò Brea 2009) and fortifications became imposing. Stability of the Terramara system was based on management of space, bartering, production and social relations (Nicolis 2013).
The Terramara system of pile–dwelling collapsed ca. 1200 BC, with the political instability brought about in the whole Mediterranean area. It has been traditionally argued that the radical depopulation of vast sectors of the Po Plain and the appearance of elements from the Po Plain/Terramare tradition in central-southern Italy in diminishing proportions resulted from the dispersal of groups, numerous or otherwise, of Terramare peoples from the north (Cardarelli 2009).
Some areas, like large valleys around Verona and the Po delta, were not affected by the crisis, and villages were relocated along main rivers and economies reorganised around complex production systems and wide-ranging trading networks. Mycenaean sherds are found in this area, probably from centres in Apulia which had Aegean craftsmen, or directly from the Greek mainland. In eastern Trentino, metallurgical production on a proto-industrial scale is seen ca. 1200–1000 BC, linked to the Luco/Laugen culture typical of the Alpine environment, and connected through centres of the Po plain with the Mediterranean (Nicolis 2013).
The Final Bronze Age shows the emergence of Frattesina in the north-eastern Po plain, the paramount centre of craftsmanship and trade, continuing the Terramare–Palafitte tradition on a much larger scale. Glass and antler artefacts, objects of bronze, faience, amber, and elephant ivory prove the central economic role of this site in a Cypriot–Phoenician trade system (Heyd 2013).
In central Italy (Etruria and neighbouring regions), the Early Bronze Age is defined Bell Beaker pottery of a style similar to the Polada culture. Settlements include open-air sites, along with rock shelters and caves that were used also for collective burial and cult practices. Pastoralism plays an important role, complemented by agriculture and hunting (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Pre-Apennine facies dominate in central Italy ca. 2000–1500 BC. Settlements include open-air villages along the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian coasts in connection with lakes, while natural caves are used for settlement and collective burials featuring inhumation and cult practices. Subterranean multiple chamber tombs are considered exclusive to elite kin-groups. Pottery includes carinated or rounded cups and bowls, biconical or ovoid jugs, ovoid jars, and truncated-conical bowls. Grotta Nuova pottery appears in the earliest layers of the Capitoline Hill settlement in Rome. Copper ores were exploited during the Copper Age, and this activity intensifies during the Early Bronze Age, dominated by metallurgists and craftsmen who make them whole and distribute them (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Apennine facies (Figure 50) define the final phase of the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1350 BC), and are widely distributed over the entire Italian peninsula. Pottery includes bowls, carinated and rounded cups, ovoid and biconical jars, with incised engraved decoration. Lake settlements increase, cave sites and shelters are still used in the Apennine regions and in the coastal Tyrrhenian area (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Figure 50. Characteristic Apennine pottery with northern (left) and southern (right) forms. Modified from Trump (2014).
The Late Bronze Age (starting ca. 1350 BC) shows the widespread distribution of Sub-Apennine pottery (until ca. 1000 BC)—with varied cups and bowls with plastic protrusions on handles—associated initially with Mycenaean pottery. In Etruria, the demographic crisis of Terramare is evidenced by the depopulation of the plains, although settlements continue in the Apennine area. Cremation cemeteries appear in Lazio and Apulia, with a close relationship with Palafitte–Terramare communities of the north, marked by formal features of northern type in the local pottery, which may signal the interest of northern communities in mining resources and access to the Adriatic. This period sees the widespread adoption of Peschiera bronzes—violin–bow fibulae, daggers, and flange-hilted swords—found in the Balkans, Aegean, Cyprus and the Levant. Use of metal intensifies, with bronze tools needed for all productive activities. Palafitte–Terramare appear up to southern Italy in small numbers (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Large-scale interaction networks during the MBA and LBA between the Apennines and The Marches territories are supported in earlier times by the characteristic decorative motif of Apennine bowls, showing likely symbolic significance generically connected to family-group identities, possibly through marriage exchanges, rather than simple regional tradition. Exchange of raw materials (like flint) and perishable goods, as well as valuables like Baltic amber—shared with the Adriatic—also points to continued contacts. This close relationship is further supported by the shared mobile pastoralist economy, which may have allowed for the exploitation of nearby territories, reducing the perception of distance commonly travelled by shepherds (Moroni et al. 2019).
The Final Bronze Age facies (‘Chiusi-Cetona’) in Etruria shows formal similarities with north-eastern Po plain and Frattesina, with pottery decoration reminiscent of Terramare patterns. Inland settlements are mostly on hills and plateaus, and no evidence of occupation in future Villanovan centres along the Tyrrhenian coast is found. Funerary practices include small cremation cemeteries, with urns decorated with Vogelsonnenbarke (‘bird-sun-boat’) or birds’ heads patterns. This region participated in the international trade of bronze artefacts between Frattesina to the north-east and south-western regions (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
At the Final Bronze Age–Early Iron Age transition (ca. 1200–850 BC), different groups emerge. The Picene emerge in the Marche with hill settlements near the coast, continuing the Final Bronze, and demographic growth is documented in the area. In the inland Apennine and Adriatic coastal areas, facies are initially close to Lazio and southern Etruria, but during the Early Iron Age they show a systematic connection with the Picene facies. In southern Etruria, the Proto-Villanovan pottery is characterised by engraved and plastic decoration. The settlement system aims at territorial control, and a sophisticated metal industry and trading system emerges. Funerary ritual shows the acceptance of the ideological implications of cremation, being based on the urn as the house of the deceased, connected to the destruction of the body by fire and transition to a different dimension. The Early Iron Age Villanovan, direct ancestor of the Etruscan culture, shows cultural homogeneity and synchronous emergence of central and peripheral sites (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The ancient Lazio evolved during the Final Bronze Age under the influence of southern Etruria, shown in similarities in material culture, ritual, and settlement patterns, but this influence faded at the end of this period, probably due to the consolidation of the region’s ethnocultural identity. Apparently, chiefs, priests, and possibly chiefly priests were entitled to an exclusive burial ritual, with miniature assemblages including the indicators of the main social roles: sword for military-political power; knife and a statuette in the form of an offer for religious role. During the Early Iron Age, initially territorial organisation shows a connection with Fossa–grave groups of Campania and Calabria, which probably evidences the close ethnolinguistic connection of these regions. This connection shifts later to southern Etruria, under the Etruscan influence. Cremation cemeteries appear in the region (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Chalcolithic Laterza facies continues up to southern Lazio until the turn of the 2nd millennium BC. Unlike Late Copper Age northern and western Italian cultures like Remedello or Rinaldone, which had already a symbolism similar to the Bell Beaker message, cultures like Conelle and Laterza in the Adriatic basin were less receptive to the new package, which resulted in a different distribution of Beaker pots. This is also visible far to the south in Sicily, where Bell Beakers established a Beaker core in the west of the island, in the previous Conca d’Oro area. Western Sicily, although not part of the core, had in the south a role of transmitter of impulses similar to the role of the Rhenish/Dutch Bell Beaker to the north (Heyd 2013).
Quite relevant for the situation of Bell Beakers in these regions is the direct exchange links of these regions with the Aegean during the Early Bronze Age. The social background is different from other Aegean-related cultures: there are less prestige goods made of precious metal, no direct evidence of local elites, and burial traditions show collective graves are found in artificial grottos and caves. In the period 3000–2500 BC different single burials are seen from regional cultures related to Gaudo, Rinaldone or Remedello, but they are absent ca. 2500–2000 BC (Heyd 2013).
All these findings range from traded goods to prestige objects to imitations, and seem to have been mediated by certain important ports, such as the Steno site on the Ionian island of Levkas, which shows southern Greek mainland and Cyclades objects that appeared later in the Adriatic, and in Apulia and Sicily. Chronologically, Sicily would have been affected in the 25th century BC, Apulia and Cetina in the 24th c., and northern Italy (Polada) in the 23rd c. while the western half of Italy was influenced starting in the 22nd c. (Heyd 2013).
Numerous Proto-Apennine settlements are found along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, particularly concentrated on the south-eastern regions. The earliest Mycenaean pottery occurs in the late Proto-Apennine period of coastal sites, while the Tyrrhenian area maritime contacts are more limited. Interior sites are few and concentrated in the control of natural routes. Funerary practices include inhumation and multiple or collective burials, with burial complexes including caves and underground chamber tombs, which are seen as correlates of the individual elite kin-groups of the local communities, emphasising the principal role of weapon-bearers (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Metal artefacts are rare until the end of the Middle Bronze Age, which points to the lack of relevance for local economies. Trans-Adriatic contacts are evidenced by the widespread presence of Bronzes in northern Apulia, paralleled in the eastern Adriatic region, but absent in the south, while Mycenaean pottery is absent in the north and present in the south. This points to a specialised exchange system through the eastern Mediterranean. The final phase of the Middle Bronze Age shows a deterioration of the local system of coastal trading in the west, scarcity of Apenine settlements, and sites with Sicilian–Aeolian Thapsos–Milazzese facies, which point to the occupation of marginal areas of the peninsula by inhabitants from the Aeolian Islands. In the centre and east, the Aegean presence intensifies, with the association of local impasto with imported Mycenaean pottery. However, no colonisation can be seen, but rather small groups of Aegean sailors integrating within the local system of trade and manufacture of metals and amber. There is continuity of funerary practices (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
During the Late Bronze Age, Aegean contacts intensify. Abundant Mycenaean pottery – imported closed vessels (probably with varied contents) – are traded. Mycenaean pottery of south Italian production is found up to northern Italy, while eastern Mediterranean cultures look for look for metal and amber. Local bronze artefacts of Aegean type indicate the presence of foreign groups, a trend observed up to the Final Bronze Age. The Final Bronze Age and Iron Age (1200–720 BC) start with the invasion of the Aeolian islands and parts of north-eastern Sicily from the southern Tyrrhenian coast, following a deterioration of relationship. Local Proto-Geometric pottery and wheel-turned dolia are technological legacy of Aegean contacts, with coastal sites being prevalent—with trans-Adriatic routes still in use, and close Balkan connection with Apulia—while inland settlements control territory and long-distance communication (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The first contacts with Sicily are seen ca. 2750–2500 BC, but most exchanges must have taken place during the peak of the Early Helladic IIb period (ca. 2500–2200 BC), with different objects made of precious metals found in graves. The third period, after ca. 2200 BC, saw further Aegean imports, in lesser quantity. Different from these are the trans-Adriatic contacts in central and northern Italy with the western Balkans, related to Cetina (see §VIII.9.1. Cetina). The Tarxien cremation cemetery in Malta, with a description similar to that of a tumulus, also shows a Mediterranean connection in small finds, metal artefacts, and pottery links. Malta also belonged to the marginal area of Bell Beaker presence, against the cultural background of the ‘cremation cemetery’ of Tarxien, V-buttons made of Spondylus shell and horizontal band-like decorated beaker-like vessels (Heyd 2013).
The Early Bronze Age in Sicily (ca. 2200–1500 BC), represented by the Castelluccio culture, is characterised by a system of coastal trade involving a great part of the central Mediterranean, which shows similar material culture: handmade impasto pottery—jars, high-handled carinated cups, open vessels on a high conical stand—with incised decoration and similar shapes, related to the local Copper Age tradition and to the Middle Helladic matt-painted pottery production. Other local groups are also visible in Sicily and Malta: Rodì-Tindari-Vallelunga (RTV) shows similarities with Proto-Apennine pottery from the mainland, with sites found in the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria; Moarda, in the west and sporadically in the south, shows pottery clearly related to Bell Beaker pottery with Castelluccio influence. Systematic trade routes with the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean are apparent ca. 1700–1500 BC (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The Early Bronze Age shows an organisation in small villages, showing some degree of functional specialisation and interdependence, joined to form clusters, probably corresponding to tribal groups. Coast and inland, as well as hills, plateaus and plains are occupied, with caves and open-air settlements adapted to the local environment for their subsistence economy. Local goods are mixed with exotic objects obtained through the trade system. Funerary rite is inhumation, usually multiple or collective, with special features possibly showing competition between kin-groups in the same community (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The Middle Bronze Age is defined by the Thapsos–Milazzese culture in Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and the coast of Calabria, featuring handmade impasto with no painted decoration, showing formal and functional similarities to the previous RTV culture with local imitations of Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery. This period coincides with the maximum intensity of Aegean contacts and east Mediterranean–Cypriot participation. A decrease in the number of sites and concentration in the east-central zone in Sicily shows a more centralised political and territorial organisation, with dwelling structures characterised by circular or rectangular huts with stone foundations. Tombs are plain grotticelle (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
Aeolian villages, a cultural extension of Sicily in this period, are small, and trade is concentrated with northern regions of the peninsula to procure raw materials and artefacts. Increasingly hostile relationships are seen in the coast of Calabria with the establishment of Thapsos–Milazzese groups, coinciding with a decrease in local Apennine occupation and a decrease in Apennine pottery in Sicily, which has been interpreted as raids carried out in the mainland involving seizing objects and potentially people (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The Late Bronze Age (starting ca. 1250 BC) is marked by an invasion from the mainland, probably the coast of Calabria. The Ausonian I culture, on the north-eastern zone, follows the Sub-Apennine culture, and there is a limited continuity of contacts and trade with the Aegean. A small amount of Proto-Villanovan pottery can also be seen, with some evidence of cremation and typical Proto-Villanovan urnfield. The Pantalica culture continues the Thapsos–Milazzese tradition, of Aegean influence, moving from the eastern to the southern coast and the interior. Mediterranean trade gradually shifts from the Aegean focus to the eastern Mediterranean, and to Sardinia as the far west post. Long-distance trade systems connecting northern Italy with the eastern Mediterranean remain in place (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The Final Bronze Age–Early Iron Age transition (1100–800 BC) is defined by the Ausonian II culture, showing a local elaboration integrating formal and functional features of peninsular and Sicilian origin, with a systematic, strong connection to the Calabrian coast regarding metal extraction (from mining resources of Calabria) and production. Pantalica tradition survives in the west with the S. Angelo Muxaro group (Bietti Sestieri 2013).
The admixture of northern Italian Bell Beakers with female locals is evident in three samples from Gui, Parma (ca. 2200–1930 BC), where a female and a male sample (of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312) show Steppe ancestry (ca. 26-30%), whereas another female, buried together with the male, shows a common ancestry with Neolithic and Copper Age European populations (Olalde et al. 2018).
Pre-Celtic and Proto-Italic languages must have been spoken to the north and south of the Alps, respectively, still in close contact for the short common Italo-Celtic period, potentially through the known contacts of northern Italy with Danubian cultures. The strongest genetic connection found between both communities to date lies in the presence of R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 subclades: R1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2 lineages (TMRCA ca. 2500 BC) are found widespread in ancient Bell Beaker samples of central and western Europe, including Iberia, while other R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 (xR1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2) lineages are prevalent in certain Italian regions, probably due to later regional bottlenecks.
R1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2 lineages are found mainly in the north-east, potentially associated with ancient Venetic-speaking peoples, but they are possibly due to later Celtic expansions, since a spread of early eastern Urnfield cultures from Transdanubia is attested in the Po Valley (Váczi 2013). On the other hand, R1b1a1b1a1a2b3-Z56 lineages (TMRCA ca. 2200 BC) are prevalent in the west, and in modern west European populations, hence probably associated with ancient Italic-speaking peoples (and their later spread with the Roman expansion). Other R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 lineages also present in Italy, like R1b1a1b1a1a2b2-Z36, those with the Z192 mutation, and other basal lineages, have an ancient split time coinciding with the spread of East Bell Beakers (TMRCA ca. 2500 BC), and cannot be associated with specific regions, which makes any connection with ancient linguistic communities speculative at this moment.
Based on the current lack of data supporting an ancient genetic connection in terms of modern lineages, the early Italo-Celtic community was possibly based on cultural diffusion between communities to the north (Pre-Celts) and south (Pre-Italo-Venetians) of the Alps, visible in archaeology (see above). Similarly, the separation of Venetic from the common Italic trunk may have been quite early, with continuous contacts between both communities allowing for the spread of common innovations (Figure 51).
While Bronze Age samples of west-central Italy show a clear homogenisation of the genetic pool, with a shift in the PCA towards central Europe (away from the previous CHG/Iran Neolithic influence), and thus close to the modern Sardinian cluster, the few investigated Iron Age samples from the Republican period (ca. 700–20 BC) show a widespread genetic cluster encompassing the modern Italian ones, overlapping North Italian (ca. 60%) or South Italian/Sicilian (ca. 40%) clusters. The arrival or increase of EHG-, Levant Neolithic-, or CHG/IN-related ancestry in samples from this period suggest influence from previous population movements during the LBA from the north or through the Mediterranean, respectively. The Imperial Period shows influence from CHG/IN-related ancestry, but only sporadically Levant Neolithic.
Figure 51. Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands: N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan: N3, North Picene (Picene of Novilara); N5, Nuragic; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, Messapian; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.
The substantial genetic impact of the Roman conquest in Iberia can be seen in the shift of sampled Iberians from the Iron Age to the Classical period, including ten individuals from the site of L’Esquerda in the north-east (7th–8th c.), who show a central/eastern Mediterranean ancestry (ca. 25%) and corresponding shift in the PCA cluster, also observed in present-day Iberians outside of the Basque area. Interestingly, the first R1b1a1b1a1a2c-S461 lineage sampled in Iberia comes from the Roman site of Mas Gassol (ca. AD 200–500), likely representing population movements across the empire, including peoples from the northern Atlantic Façade (Olalde et al. 2019).
Preliminary reports from a forthcoming paper support this shift of Iberian samples from the Iron Age to the Roman and post-Roman period, closer to Iron Age samples from central Italy, which in turn show—like Etruscans—a position intermediate between Sardinians and central Europeans (see below). The reported Iron Age samples from Rome show a wide cluster including, possibly divisible in those of modern North and South Italians (Grugni et al. 2019). This also supports reports of how the city of Rome grew from a small city to become a mosaic of inhabitants from across the Mediterranean empire.
A Bell Beaker sample from Per, western Sicily (ca. 2500–1900 BC) shows most of its ancestry from a NWAN source (ca. 93%) with few WHG-related ancestry, and none derived from the steppe (Olalde et al. 2018). The incursion of Steppe ancestry in Sicily (ca. 9%) appears only in Early Bronze Age samples from ca. 2300 BC on, coupled with the appearance of typical Bell Beaker R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312 lineages, four out of eight reported samples, with the other four being J-M304, at least one J2a1-L26 (Fernandes et al. 2019).
Two of the individuals of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312 (ca. 2300–2100 BC) are outliers, with ca. 40% and ca. 23% Steppe ancestry. At least two of the Bell Beaker lineages are R1b1a1b1a1a2a1-Z195, found in Iberian Bronze Age individuals. The origin of these Indo-European speakers in the north-west Mediterranean is further supported by the best fit of their source population found in Bell Beakers of high Steppe ancestry from Iberia, and those sampled from France (Fernandes et al. 2019).
Iranian-related ancestry is found in Sicily by the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800–1500 BC), with a consistent shift toward Mycenaeans in the PCA. Specifically, two of the three sampled individuals can only be fit with Iran Neolithic (ca. 15–18%) apart from NWAN- and WHG-related ancestry, with good fits obtained with Minoans. Of the two reported haplogroups, one from the Aegean-related group is G2a2b2a1a1c1a-Z1903, and another continuing the previous cluster is R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312. In the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1450–900 BC), a further incursion of Steppe-related ancestry (ca. 15%) is found, even though the two reported samples are one G2a2b2a1a1c1a-Z1903, and the other G2a2b2a1a1c1a2-FGC46572 (Fernandes et al. 2019).
Genetic shifts in Sicily reflect the complex history of the island during the Bronze Age, as described in archaeology. The Elymians represent the autochthonous people inhabiting west Sicily in the archaic period, and their fragmentary language is invariably considered Indo-European, most likely a Late Indo-European dialect (Marchesini 2012), probably not related to Greek (since Greek settlers would have recognized it). Given the findings of population genomics coupled with archaeology of west Sicily, it is quite possible that they represent the remnant population from the Sicilian EBA group, and their language would be related to the north-west Mediterranean (see below viii.3. Ligurians and Iberians).
The continued contacts of Sicily with the East Mediterranean are reflected particularly in the Middle Bronze Age, where archaeological contacts with the Aegean are more intense. The increase in Steppe ancestry in the Late Bronze Age is probably coincident with the arrival of Sicel-speaking peoples, which supports the close relationship of their language to Italic. Even though the chronological and regional transect of the available samples is limited, data seems to support the presence of a single language and writing culture from ca. 5th c. BC on, with several varieties roughly divided with archaeological cultures between the north-eastern part (more frequently subjected to innovations owing to contacts with other Italic dialects) and the southern one. There is thus no linguistic or genetic reason to support a distinction between the Sicels and Sicani (Poccetti 2012).
The term Sicanian as Pre-Indo-European remains thus a useful resource for the oldest stratum, geographically overlaid by the arrival of Indo-Europeans. This substrate does not survive into the 1st millennium BC, and there are no Sicanian inscriptions, but some recurring suffixes and topo-hydronymy may be classified as Sicanian, with a potential typological resemblance to Mediterranean names from Tartessus to Asia Minor, and in particular to the Aegean or ‘Pre-Greek’ toponymy (Simkin 2012).
Preliminary reports from a forthcoming paper shows Etruscan Iron Age samples cluster close to Picentes, Samnites, and Umbri. This ancient Etruscan cluster appears to be intermediate between Central European and EEF populations, and in particular surrounded by modern Tuscans and North Italians (more Central European-like), Iberian Iron Age, modern Sardinians, and Iron Age Romans. The few reported Etruscans to date also cluster close to Italian Tuscans, but more shifted towards Sardinians (Ávila-Arcos 2015). While Etruscans may show the described LBA impact from the Eastern Mediterranean, the finding of one outlier closer to Central European Bell Beakers may show the described impact of an EHG-related population, potentially through Urnfield-related migrations.
The traditional association of Etruscans and the Tursēnoi of Lemnos in the Aegean seems supported by recent genetic research on the frequent contacts of Mediterranean peoples during the Bronze Age, and it is likely derived from a recent invasion of the Italian Peninsula by eastern peoples from Asia Minor, which justifies the recent Near Eastern cultural and linguistic influence of Etruscans (Magness 2001), as well as the indirect influence of the former in Latin and Osco-Umbrian through the expansion of the latter. The arrival of Tyrrhenian speakers may have been an infiltration of small elite groups with few material objects, which may be as difficult to pinpoint exactly as that of Proto-Greeks in the southern Balkans (Beekes 2003).
Nevertheless, it seems that the Proto-Villanova culture shows a break with the previous Bronze Age Apennine culture ca. 1200 BC (Briquel 1999; Torelli 2000), with Villanovan territory being mostly coincident with the later Etruscan-speaking zone, and no clear cultural break is seen between both cultures. This possibly implies the arrival of foreign peoples displacing or dominating Umbrians on their homeland around the River Umbro, with a timing fitting the famine among Tursēnoi in the Aegean, and the turmoil involving Sea Peoples (Beekes 2003). Increasing contacts between southern and central Italy and southern Greek mainland from the 13th c. BC on has been detected in terms of material culture, migrants, and also a potential transfer of livestock such as pigs (Meiri et al. 2019).
The language of Etruscans would then be closely related to that of the ancient Minoans. The concentration of J2a1b-M67 subclades in central-west and north-west Italians, with lesser presence in Provence and in northern Corsica (Di Cristofaro et al. 2018), may be associated with this migration, because haplogroup J2a1-L26 is found in Anatolian Neolithic-related populations. Even though this haplogroup is also found among Early European farmers from central Europe, the only ancient J2a1b-M67 subclade reported to date in Europe comes from Ludas-Varjú-dűlő (ca. 1200 BC), belonging to the Kyjatice group of the Urnfield culture (Gamba et al. 2014).
Since the Urnfield culture is also associated with the expansion of the Villanova culture, it is possible that this or similar contemporary samples of hg. J2a1b-M67 were associated with other expanding Tyrsenian peoples like the Raeti, from the central Alps, although this is too speculative at this moment. Based on modern populations, the diffusion of J2a1b-M67 lineages in Italy, with variance and coalescent time values comparable to those of the Middle East, has been described as potentially related to the ‘Maritime Trojan Culture’ involving the western Anatolian mainland and the eastern Aegean Sea. The high microsatellite variation age of J2a1b-M67 in Volterra, located in the core area of ancient Etruria, supports the ancestral source of the Etruscan gene pool in Asia Minor (Grugni et al. 2018).
A recent Anatolian connection was reported by examining mtDNA in modern populations of present day Tuscany (Brisighelli et al. 2009), but no major shift can be seen in the maternal ancestry of this region across 50 centuries, from the Eneolithic to modern Italians. The higher maternal diversity of Tuscany compared to neighbouring populations has been accumulating likely due to incoming peoples with a consistent social and sex (i.e. male) bias (Leonardi, Sandionigi, et al. 2018). The presence of Middle Eastern ancestry particularly in southern Italian and Sardinian populations, as a varying mixture of WHG, NWAN, CHG/IN and North African components depending on the specific region (Raveane et al. 2018), cannot be properly interpreted without access to a proper ancient DNA temporal and geographical transect.
An alternative possibility for Etruscans includes a resurge of a previous linguistic community, based on the potentially recent Chalcolithic migrations from Anatolia to the Italian Peninsula through southern Europe observed in the samples from Remedello (Kilinc et al. 2016). This situation would be therefore similar to the expansion of indigenous non-Indo-European languages in Iberia, in spite of the almost complete male population replacement. However, the close relationship with the population of Lemnos would require a movement of peoples in the opposite direction, which is not supported by the current archaeological and genetic investigation (Beekes 2003).