New human remains from the Late Epigravettian necropolis of Arene Candide (Liguria, northwestern Italy): Direct radiocarbon evidence and inferences on the funerary use of the cave during the Younger Dryas

Vitale S. Sparacello*, Irene Dori, Stefano Rossi, Alessandra Varalli, Julien Riel-Salvatore, Claudine Gravel-Miguel, Alessandro Riga, Francesca Seghi, Gwenaëlle Goude, Sanne W.L. Palstra, Elisabetta Starnini, Vincenzo Formicola, Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
92 Downloads (Pure)


The Arene Candide Cave is a renowned site on the northwestern Italian coast that has yielded numerous burials dating back to the terminal phases of the Pleistocene (Epigravettian culture). Thanks to the exceptional preservation of the remains, and to the information collected during the excavations that begun in the 1940s, researchers were able to reconstruct a complex pattern of manipulation of older burials that consistently occurred when interring new individuals. Therefore, the Epigravettian necropolis provides a rare glimpse into the modalities, and possibly the motives, of funerary behavior in the Late Upper Paleolithic, a period during which formal burial was highly selective. The reasons for this selection are still unclear, but it has been proposed that they may be related to “exceptional events” (violence and trauma) and “exceptional people” (disease and deformities due to congenital conditions). This study presents an assemblage of hundreds of skeletal elements and fragments belonging to two new individuals, and to individuals of the necropolis that were already known. The remains, which had never been described since their excavation in 1940–42, were discovered during the reassessment of the collections kept at the Museum of Natural History, Section of Anthropology and Ethnology of the University of Florence. The analysis extends our knowledge of the biological profile of the individuals buried at the site, which is fundamental for our understanding of Late Upper Paleolithic funerary behavior. The inclusion of two new individuals in the skeletal series, both children aged around 1–1.5 years, suggests that age may have not been a significant factor in determining funerary treatment. New radiocarbon dates on human bone – together with the cross-referencing of the available dates with the stratigraphic relations between burials and clusters of bones in secondary deposit – suggest that the entire necropolis is bracketed within a millennium corresponding to the Younger Dryas cooling event (i.e. between ca. 12,900 and 11,600 cal BP). Arene Candide Cave was a highly-visible landmark in the landscape, and funerary gestures in the Epigravettian necropolis emphasized the ties with the ancestors. It is possible that funerary behavior at Arene Candide was a means of claiming territorial access to resources, as well as reinforcing and transmitting communal identity and values, through a period of climate-induced resource stress and competition. Isolation and small refugia during cooling events may have contributed to exacerbating genetic drift, and increased the frequency of cultural means to sanction “exceptional people and events”.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107131
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 15-Sep-2021


  • Europe
  • Funerary behavior
  • Paleoanthropology
  • Pleistocene
  • Younger Dryas

Cite this