Archaeological findings indicate that the area around Cocullo has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Stone tools dating from the Lower and Middle Paleolithic periods (about 100,000 years ago) have been found in the mountains east of town (Mount Pietrafitta, Rotta dei Bovi and Mount Prezza). These tools were used by bands of nomadic hunters who during that period ventured deep into the region, even at high altitudes, in search of large prey.
A bronze disc-type fibula (brooch) from the Iron Age (first millennium BC) was also found near Casale. It was decorated with a swastika-type design and a double row of dots along the edge, and probably came from a tomb.
Around the 5th century BC, the inhabitants of Abruzzo began to divide into more specific ethnic groups: the Peligni, the Vestini, the Marsi, etc. Recent studies tend to place Cocullo, and the Sagittario Valley in general, within the territory of the Peligni, given similarities in the burial sites and in objects found in various parts of the region.
The most ancient burial goods discovered near Cocullo confirm the presence of a settlement as early as the 6th and 5th centuries BC – perhaps the same as the one established during the Iron Age. Unfortunately, the information relating to the later period is also very tenuous. We do not know where the village was located at the time – perhaps uphill from the pre-Roman burial site, which is southwest of present-day Casale.
A larger volume of archaeological evidence – all of it from burial grounds – is available starting from the 4th century BC. During that period, tombs consisted of rectangular graves dug in the ground, then lined and covered with stone slabs. They are known as “stone box tombs”. The goods found in the graves were primarily of local origin, and consisted of pottery and a few metal objects, mostly related to weapons. One tomb, whose owner was obviously well-to-do, contained metal vases and jewelry, including 11 bronze fibulas, an amber pendant depicting a small female head, and granules made of the same material. The grave goods, all dating from the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, were of a type available locally (for example, goblets decorated with black paint) or in areas along the Adriatic coast or further north. This suggests that there was contact not only with people in the Peligna Valley and the Marsica, but also with territories further afield.
At present, the pre-Roman period is the one for which we have the most evidence in the area around Cocullo, most of it in the form of burial goods. Further proof that a pre-Roman settlement existed near Casale is provided by the discovery of the stipe votiva (depository of religious offerings) of a shrine, which might have been located outside the settlement, but not far from it. The little bronze objects (now lost) contained in the depository resembled those frequently found in pre-Roman shrines in the Abruzzo region.
As regards the Roman imperial period (1st century BC and later), there is scant archaeological data to support the existence of a city not far from the Via Valeria, as reported by the Greek historian and geographer Strabo. For the Roman period per se, all that has been found, other than a few tombs about which we cannot be certain, are remnants of dwellings, perhaps from the urban settlement.
The archaeologist De Nino refers to a pago (village) supposedly situated near Triana. The most conclusive proof of the existence of a settlement during the Roman period is a mosaic floor uncovered in Casale in the late 1950s; the archival records mention a simple white tessellation traceable to the Roman era. The floor could have been part of an isolated building or, more likely, a group of dwellings, but the scant data in our possession does not make it possible to formulate more precise theories. Numerous fragments of Roman-era pottery, chiefly from roofing tiles, continue nevertheless to be found in the area.
There is very little information regarding the burial site from the same period, but the presence of tombs designed to contain cremation urns (as witnessed by the chest-type cinerary urn mentioned by De Nino), as well as funeral inscriptions from that period, suggest that in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD the necropolis was also located near Casale.
Perhaps this was the burial site for the city mentioned by Strabo, which he placed near the Via Valeria and which probably extended toward the adjacent Peligna Valley. Some experts think that, because the Cocullo territory was not organized into a municipality during the Roman period, it may have come under the ambit of Sulmona, or was perhaps part of the wider Peligno territory, especially since the names found on (the admittedly few) epigraphs from that period belong to people known to have inhabited the coeval Roman municipalities of Sulmo and Corfinium.
As for transportation routes, De Nino mentions the ruins of an ancient road in the vicinity of Castiglioni, Costa Larga and La Defensa, located in a middle-altitude area northeast of present-day Casale. He says that the road was called Via Saracena, was cut partly into the rock, and was about eight metres wide. Wonterghem refers to a north-south road that originated in the Conca Subequana and that went from Statulae (near present-day Goriano Sicoli) to Cocullo and then Anversa, where it joined the Via Saracena. The Via Valeria, referred to by Strabo, had existed since the time of the republic. Before it was rebuilt under the emperor Claudius, in the middle of the 1st century AD, it must have come from Marruvium (San Benedetto dei Marsi), crossed the mountain pass at Carrito, and (as Strabo says) passed not far from ancient Cocullo (about six Roman miles away), before continuing to Corfinio and the Adriatic coast.