The First Metal

The discovery of the Copper Age site of Remedello

Welcome in the Gaetano Chierici's Museum of Palethnology

The museum was named after its founder Father Gaetano Chierici, who was a priest, a patriot and an archaeologist. The display of the museum still shows the Nineteenth Century organisation. The visitor can discover the history of the territory of Reggio Emilia  throughout a system organised in a chronological order starting from the Stone Age until the Middle Ages. At the sides of the main room, artefacts from the rest of Italy can be seen. The aim of Chierici was to gather artefacts from the territories of the recently unified Italian Peninsula. In this online exhibition we will tell you the story of the discovery of Remedello's site, whose finds are among the most important and famous objects displayed in the museum. You will be also guided by the voice of its discoverer, whose words are freely based on his manuscripts and published works.

The discovery of the archaeological site of Remedello

Father Gaetano Chierici was one of the pioneers of the prehistoric archaeology. In 1884 G. Bandieri, a pupil of Chierici, notified him that near Remedello (Brescia, Italy) whlie some farmers were digging to plant a vineyard particular skeletons emerged from the earth. Father Chierici raised funds from the Reggio Emilia Museum and other museums and universities to conduct archaeological excavations and secure the finds. He had foreseen the opportunity to answer the question that haunted him for several years: how ancient were the cultures of men?

Gaetano Chierici excavated for many years Terramare, Bronze Age villages arisen in Emilia Romagna until the time when Homer narrated the Trojan War. He also found some Stone Age sites and brought all the findings into his Museum.
He was gifted with powers of observation and provided with with an analytical method, therefore he displayed the artifacts along a time line. He noticed that some of the archaeological findings from his excavations did not seem to be neither so ancient nor as advanced as those of the Bronze Age Terramare.
He wondered if there had been a long period in between the two ages which still needed to be named.

Burial n.° 83 from Remedello necropolis (Brescia) (beginning of IIIrd millennium B.C. - half of IIIrd millennium B.C.)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

«The enthusiasm of Bandieri, who decided to entirely pay for a second excavation campaign, infected me. The two of us decided to reopen the excavations in September 1885. I saw, with my own eyes, emerge from the earth burials of a kind I have never seen before. The dead were lying on their side with knees near to their chest, and next to them there were daggers of a shape and color that I almost seemed to have already seen, so much intensely I had wished to find them.»*

*Text freely inspired by the writings of Gaetano Chierici

The archaeological excavation of Remedello

The first graves discovered during agricultural works were destroyed. In March 1885 began the first archaeological excavation campaign, followed by others. 10 burials with grave goods were extracted from the ground and sent in boxes to the Museum of Reggio Emilia, where they are still preserved. Some crates of artifacts were sent to the Pigorini Museum of Rome, the Museum of Viadana and the Museum of Brescia, which continued the enterprise in 1886, after the death of Chierici. A century later, in 1986, three more burials were dug, one of which is the only one exhibited at the Remedello Museum.

Burial n.° 73 from Remedello necropolis (Brescia) (Half of IIIrd millennium B.C. - end of IIIrd millennium B.C.)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

In Gaetano Chierici's Museum (in the Palazzo dei Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia) the graves are preserved in the same condition as they were sent from Remedello. Gaetano Chierici himself used to watch over the opening of the crates and to do an accurate dig in order to bring to light the
skeletons and their grave goods, taking care of preserving the position of them and the original soil. In November 1885 this work, given its importance, took place in the presence of the Mayor and the City Council.
Of each tomb Chierici wrote down every detail in his notebooks.

Page from Gaetano Chierici's notebook (1884/1884) by Gaetano ChiericiCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia

«Remedello, December 1885. We have gone back for a second excavation campaign, and we have been digging even if it's snowing.
After a few days I came back to Reggio: Bandieri sends me every day crates of finds that I have to organize. The cold torments me, but I know it's worth it.»*
Gaetano Chierici did not accept to listen to his friends, who were trying to warn him to take care of himself. He did not understand that health was leaving him. During the night between January 8th and 9th, the fire inside him ceased to burn, and he died.

*Text freely inspired by the writings of Gaetano Chierici

What do we know nowadays about Copper Age?

The term Copper Age (also known as Calcholitihic Age or Eneolithic Age) means a period of the late Prehistory between Neolithic Age and Bronze Age. In these period of transition people built and use copper objects, that were still pretty rare. In Northern Italy this period lasted from 3500 a.C. until 2200 a.C.

Showcase with archaeological findings from Remedello (BS)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

Copper is the first metal worked by man. At the very beginning it was shaped by smelting some rare native copper nuggets that can be found in nature. Later, man learned to extract copper from minerals, oxides or sulphides. In order to obtain the necessary quantity of metal, it became essential to dig mines. In Northern Italy, the first evidence of copper producting dates about 4000 BC

Despite the mastery of the processing technique, copper objects remained rare and prestigious, because of the difficulty of the metal production process. From Remedello come five daggers, four axes, some awls, a spiral-wound wire earring and a silver pin. Some daggers are made of arsenical copper, a more resistant type of copper, while the axes are made of pure copper.

Burial n°78 from Remedello necropolis (Brescia) (beginning of IIIrd millennium B.C. - half of IIIrd millennium B.C.)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

In that period not only the use of copper became widespread, and this gives the name to the period, but there were also very important changes in people way of living: thanks to the invention of the first ploughs, farming is more efficient, from herds are obtained milk, dairy products and wool, the villages have longer houses for larger familiar group. Between the individuals lived in the Copper Age, the better known is "Oetzi the iceman", whose mummy is now preserved in the Iceman Museum of Bozen in Italy.

Burial n.° 65 from Remedello necropolis (Brescia) (beginning of IIIrd millennium B.C. - half of IIIrd millennium B.C.)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

A very good point of observation to understand the old civilizations are the necropolis, the ancient cemeteries. In Remedello's site, archaeologists discovered almost 300 graves: the people who lived nearby continued to bury their deads there for almost 1000 years, a very long period, during which they hadn't lose memory of the sacrality of the place.
This permanence of use tells us that these communities were really bond to these areas.

Showcase with archaeological findings from Remedello (BS)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

The deads were buried crouched on their side or supine with their legs bent and with some objects that could underline their social role. Only a few men could have grave goods: sometimes flint objects, rarely copper artifacts. Few times potteries have been found, sometimes decorated. Inside female graves there were no grave goods, or they were very rare. The necropolis gave back to everyone the place that they had in the community when they were still alive.

Burial n.° 40 from Remedello necropolis (Brescia) (beginning of IIIrd - half of IIIrd millennium B.C.)Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia

During the Copper Age there was the rise of warriorhood.
Even though men were able to exercise violence even in previous times, during this age for the first time they showed off the possession of weapons.
In Remedello there are male individuals buried with flint arrowheads, green stones or copper axes and flint or copper daggers. The presence of remarkable weapons made with copper indicates that there was an evolution toward a much more complex society in which there would have been an arise of a warrior elite.

Panel with archaeological stratigraphy rendering (1884/1884) by Gaetano ChiericiCivic Museums of Reggio Emilia

In 1884, exactly the year of the first discoveries in Remedello, Chierichi presented to the Scientific Community a Panel in which the archaeological sites of Reggio Emilia territory were grafically shown as layers in a sort of stratigraphic representation from the older to the most recent. He was a pioneer of the stratigraphic method, which today is at the basis of the archeological discipline. Thanks to the excavations of Remedello, the last endeavour of his life, Chierici could write a new chapter in the book of the history of mankind, placed between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. He named it Eneolithic Age, nowadays known as the Copper Age.

Remedello's discovery was only the last of Gaetano Chierici's great exploits, which ends the story of a life dedicated to archaeological research, narrated still today by his Museum in the same way he created it.

Credits: Story

Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia wish to thank:

Google Cultural Institute

Annalisa Rabitti, ass. alla Cultura

Massimo Magnani, dir. Area Competitività e innovazione sociale

Project curated by:

Georgia Cantoni, curatorship
Texts: Nicolò Donati, Valentina Uglietti
Editing: Georgia Cantoni, Chiara Ferretti
Foto: Carlo Vannini

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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