The main obstacle to the establishment of stable settlements on the island has been, in all ages, the absence of fresh water sources. But the human presence on Giannutri’s soil appears very old: a carved flint point (used in prehistory as the end of arrows and spears) was found in 1968 at Pian Fagiano, immediately north of the village of Cala Spalmatoio1; at Vigna Vecchia, on the other hand, the findings of obsidian blades and fragments of impasto pottery suggest the existence in that place of a small village, not necessarily of a stable nature; other ceramic fragments of impasto, not better dated, have been recovered in the Grotta delle Capre2. It follows that in prehistoric and protohistoric times the island was frequented and presumably used as hunting grounds and as a temporary landing during fishing trips.
Possible Etruscan presences
No findings suggest instead the presence of the Etruscans in Giannutri, except for some sporadic finds of iron slag in Poggio del Cannone and Vigna Vecchia that could be referred, at least in part, to their activity3. All the coastal area close to the island of Elba (with a particular concentration in Populonia and Follonica) was in fact affected for centuries, before the development of the Roman power, by the extraction of iron, derived from hematite, a mineral aboundant on Elba. This island was called Aithalia by the Greeks because of the fumes that rose from the ovens made to extract the precious metal (from the Greek aithale, soot). The huge amount of hematite extracted from the mines on the island forced the Etruscans to transport a large part of it to the coastal towns, which were equipped with ovens for cooking the mineral placed directly on the beaches, at the landing points of the barges coming from Elba. It is now certain that the development of the Etruscan civilization was determined precisely by the well-being derived from the exploitation of iron mines, very sought after in the Mediterranean and in the Near East: Greek and Phoenician ships continuously arrived in the Etruscan ports of this area of the Tyrrhenian Sea to load the iron by bartering it with other goods, in particular luxury items (e.g. silver cups from the Near East or from Egypt, unguents from Greece, decorated Attic and Corinthian vases) highly coveted by the Etruscan aristocracies who controlled the production and the metal trade.
Hematite was transported even raw at a considerable distance from the place of extraction: the archaeological data and scientific surveys on the samples of ore recovered in the metallurgical district of Pithekoussai (Lacco Ameno in the island of Ischia, an important emporium in which Etruscans, Greeks and other Italics lived and worked together) tell undoubtedly that the ore come from the mines of Rio Marina on Elba4. Therefore it can not be excluded that the iron slag found in Giannutri is the only evidence of the presence of Etruscan metallurgical activities on the island, even if limited in time or episodic.
Due to its geographical position it is very probable that Giannutri, like Giglio and the Argentario promontory with the two ports of Ansedonia and Talamone, was in the territory under the control of the powerful Etruscan town of Vulci, whose ruins are today only a few kilometers north of Montalto di Castro.
1 R.C. Bronson – G. Uggeri, Isola del Giglio, Isola di Giannutri, Monte Argentario, Laguna di Orbetello, in Studi Etruschi, 38 (1970), p. 207, nr. 29.
2 R.C. Bronson – G. Uggeri, op.cit., p. 205, nr. 25.
3 R.C. Bronson – G. Uggeri, op.cit.