Institute of Archaeology


Giacomo Fontana

The complexity of mountain dwellers: the Samnites and the under-theorisation of landscapes and societies in the 1st Millennium BCE Mediterranean

Giacomo Fontana's profile

Email: giacomo.fontana.19@ucl.ac.uk

Twitter: @Giacomo_Arch
Section: World Archaeology 


The complexity of mountain dwellers: the Samnites and the under-theorisation of landscapes and societies in the 1st Millennium BCE Mediterranean

I am a PhD candidate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL), and an associated researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). I am also the project director of the Ancient Hillfort Survey, which was recently featured in Archaeology Magazine, and one of the field directors of the KNIR research program on Mountain Archaeology. My research focuses on non-urban societal organization, marginal environments, and computational methods.

I am interested in investigating alternative ways to organise complex societies that do not conform to the urban model, particularly for the study of environments often perceived as marginal. My current PhD research investigates the resilience of the non-urban Samnite mountain society through the lenses of remote sensing and statistical modelling. I aim to highlight the forms of socio-political organisation that led to the Samnites’ remarkable military and political performance during the first millennium BCE. Before my PhD, my studies focussed on nomadic societies of the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. The theoretical framework that I developed during this time was pivotal in my current doctoral work. It allowed me to view the long-term debates about pre-Roman Italy with a fresh perspective and to appreciate the novel and original character of the non-urban forms of organisation developed in the Italian Apennines during the first millennium BCE. Historical and methodological biases have largely dominated the understanding of these societies. My research is deconstructing these biases by using new theoretical approaches paired with recently developed methodological tools. To this end, I also started a new project, the Ancient Hillfort Survey, that consists of a large-scale systematic lidar-based study and ground-truthing of Samnium, south-central Italy, aimed at detecting hillfort sites, both pre-Roman and medieval. This work allowed for the creation of a new representative dataset of hillforts unbiased by site location or vegetation cover, which I am now using to develop robust interpretation of Samnite society based on statistical analysis. My interest extends to the Italian Alps, where I am applying the statistical tools I am developing to address similar sites and research questions to those I am exploring in Samnium. I am now also starting to use these techniques for a comparative study on hillfort sites, mountain societies, and Roman expansion across south-central Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and the Caucasus.




  • BA , Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna, 2015
  • RMA, Archaeology, Leiden University, 2018

Landauer J., G. Fontana G. and S. Maddison, Hillforts in Britain and Italy: countrywide automated search for unknown sites using LiDAR data and Deep Learning. Paper presented at the ‘International Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, Vienna (10-12 Nov 2022).

Fontana G., A mountain society seen through hillforts: the Samnites. Paper presented at the conference 'A Blessing and a Curse: Mediterranean mountains between idyll and violence in later Prehistory', Cambridge (9 May 2022).

Fontana G., R. Kalkers, T. D. Stek, Exploring fortified settlements in ancient Samnium: Remote sensing and intrasite surveys in mountainous landscapes. Paper presented at the 42nd International Mediterranean Survey Conference, Rome (31 Mar - 1 Apr 2022).

Fontana G., Understanding a mountain society through hillforts: the Samnite case. Paper presented at the 27th EAA Annual Meeting, Kiel Virtual (6-11 Sept 2021)

Fontana G., Fixing the picture: a large-scale LiDAR-based study for the detection of hillforts in the mountain area of Samnium (south-central Italy). Paper presented at the 40th International Mediterranean Survey Conference, Istanbul  Virtual (4 - 5 Jun 2021).

Fontana G., A success story: the Samnite mountain society. Paper presented at the First Collaborative Workshop UCL-UniToronto: Mountain Societies, London Virtual (18 Feb 2021).

Fontana G., Semi-automatic detection and extraction of complex burial monuments in the Arabian Peninsula from high-resolution multispectral satellite imagery. Paper presented at the 46th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) international conference, Tübingen (19 - 23 Mar 2018).

Fontana G. and A. Prioletta, Digital Views: a modern approach to the recording, studying and sharing of rock art drawings and graffiti. Paper presented at the 1st Saudi Archaeology Convention, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (7 - 9 Nov 2017).

Garcia-Sanchez J. and G. Fontana, In search of Montagna di Gildone: developing an optimal workflow for the application of LIDAR in central Italy. Paper presented at the Joint Chapter Meeting CAA-DE and CAA-NL-FL, Ghent (24 - 25 Nov 2016).


Fontana G. 2021, Ancient Hillforts Survey: Report della prima campagna Campana di ground-truthing su base lidar. Report submitted to the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Caserta e Benevento, Italy.

Fontana G., and T. D. Stek, 2021, Ancient Hillforts Survey: Report della prima campagna Molisana di ground-truthing su base lidar. Report submitted to the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio del Molise, Italy.

Fontana G., and M. Tosi, 2011, The Islamic Port of Ras al Hadd. Report submitted to the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism of the Sultanate of Oman.


Fontana G. and S. Bernard (in review). A new method for the energetics analysis of polygonal masonry in Samnite hillforts.

García Sánchez J., M. K. Termeer, G. Fontana, R. A.A. Kalkers, T. D. Stek (in press). New research on two mountainous settlements in Molise, Central Italy: the hillfort of La Romana (Isernia, IS) and the mountain top site of Lo Monaco (Longano, IS), in Archeologie e montagne, edited by Migliavacca M., D. Angelini, E. Croce, and F. Saggioro. Firenze: All'Insegna del giglio.

Fontana G., 2022. Italy’s Hidden Hillforts: A Large-Scale Lidar-Based Mapping of Samnium, Journal of Field Archaeology, 47:4, 245-261, DOI: 10.1080/00934690.2022.2031465.

Fontana G., 2022. Il Dato Lidar Nello Studio Di Paesaggi Montani e Forestali: I Siti Fortificati e La Centuriazione Dei Monti Tifatini, Campania, in LANDSCAPE 2: una sintesi di elementi diacronici. Crisi e resilienza nel mondo antico, edited by Marchi M. L., G. Forte, D. Gangale Risoleo, and I. Raimondo. Venosa: Osanna Edizioni.