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Human Mobility and Subsistence Strategies in Prehistoric Italy 

Project contact: Professor Robin Skeates

PDRA's working on the project: Dr. Claudio Cavazzuti and Dr. Alessandra Varalli

A Bronze Age human inhumation

Image above: Bronze Age human remains excavated at Su Asedazzu rockshelter and cave, Seulo, Sardinia, which were sampled for aDNA analysis


This project, which incorporates the archaeological interpretative- and field-work of Prof. Robin Skeates, is using aDNA and stable isotope analyses of samples of human, animal and plant material to deepen understandings of human mobility and subsistence strategies in prehistoric Italy. Inspired by ‘the new mobilities paradigm’, it problematises ‘sedentarist’ perspectives that treat stability and fixed places as normal, as opposed to change, dynamic places, multi-sited communities, and the crossing of geographical boundaries.  


On-going research has so far been undertaken in four Italian regions: central Sardinia (Skeates/Journeys to the Underworld: Ritual Transformations of Persons, Objects and Caves in Prehistoric Central Sardinia), west-central Italy (Skeates/Caves in Context: The Place of Caves in Bronze Age Central Italy), the Po Plain (Cavazzuti/Exploring Social Permeability in Ancient Communities of Europe), and western Liguria (Varalli/ Food and Society: Reconstructing Lifestyle, Diet and Mobility during the Metal Ages in Italy).  

These studies broadly confirm that, in Italy, mobility remained a key feature of human behaviour throughout prehistory, thanks to a combination of ecological and social opportunities and tensionsVariability in mobility can, however, be identified over space, time and culture, with different techniques revealing patterns on different scalesOn the island of Sardinia, for example, aDNA data indicate that relationships with mainland populations shifted over time: the earliest islanders show a strong affinity to western Mediterranean Neolithic populations; there followed an extended period of genetic continuity on the island through the Nuragic period (second millennium BC); then, during the first millennium BC, we observe at Phoenician/Punic sites varying signals of admixture with sources principally from the eastern and northern Mediterranean. On the Po Plain, in contrast, strontium and oxygen isotope analysis documents that, during the Bronze Age, movements of people occurred mostly within a territorial radius of 50 km, but also that larger nodes in the settlement system attracted influential migrants from more distant areas. 

Funded by

  • The British Academy
  • EU-Horizon 2020-MSCA-IF-2015

Project Partners

Professor John Novembre, University of Chicago, USA 


  • Marcus, J.H., Posth, C., Ringbauer, H., Lai, L., Skeates, R., Sidore, C., Beckett, J., Furtwängler, A., Olivieri, A., Chiang, C.W.K., Al-Asadi, H., Dey, K., Joseph, T.A., Liu, C.C., Der Sarkissian, C., Radzevičiūtė, R., Michel, M., Gradoli, M.G., Marongiu, P., Rubino, S., Mazzarello, V., Rovina, D., La Fragola, A., Serra, R.M., Bandiera, P., Bianucci, R., Pompianu, E., Murgia, C., Guirguis, M., Pla Orquin, R., Tuross, N., van Dommelen, P., Haak, W., Reich, D., Schlessinger, D., Cucca, F., Krause, J. and Novembre, J. 2020. Genetic history from the Middle Neolithic to present on the Mediterranean island of SardiniaNature Communications, 11, 939.
  • Cavazzuti, C., Skeates, R., Millard, A.R., Nowell, G., Peterkin, J., Bernabò Brea, M., Cardarelli, A. and Salzani, L. 2019. Flows of people in villages and large centres in Bronze Age Italy through strontium and oxygen isotopesPLOS ONE. 
  • Skeates, R. 2017. Mobility and place-making in Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Italy. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 30(2): 167-188.