History of Sicily Until the End of the Bronze Age
La Longue Duree´: The Island in a Big Sea
Formation of the Island
In order to learn the history of a geographical area, one must look beyond punctular events. While studying the development of bronze tools, Neolithic exchange networks, or any other point in human history may be important, in a very real sense what happens during a point in human history had its foundations in geological time. Thus, the saga of Sicily begins long before the first human stepped upon the island.
While geological changes occurred long before, it was in the Late Triassic period that the first glimpse of the island of Sicily developed (Henriquet et al. 2019: 5). The continual shifting of tectonic plates during the Tertiary period forced the African plate under the European, resulting in an uplift of the Earth’s crust creating land masses, on the sea floor at first but ultimately creating islands above sea level. These complex transformations molded not only Sicily but the entirety of the region, including the Alps, Apennines, Sardinia, Corsica, and Calabria (Schmitt et al. 2021: 2).
It was not until the Neogene and Quaternary Periods that Sicilian land masses developed exponentially. During the Upper Miocene epoch, these land masses would begin to take their familiar shapes (Henriquet et al. 2019: 2-5). By the Lower Pliocene, three points in the island began to form: the Hyblaean Plateau in the southeast, terragenous sediments in the central-western part of the early island, and the northern region represented by the limestone mountains of Palermo and the metamorphic mountains of Nebrodi and Peloritani (Leighton 1999: 12); the first formed an island of its own south of the other conjoined two mountainous regions. During the Middle Pleistocene, the earliest volcanic activity at Etna occurred (Leighton 1999: 13) which began the stages of connecting the two large masses of the Hyblaean plateau to the northern regions of the island.
Of particular interest to human involvement on Sicily is the theorized Messina Formation, a land bridge between mainland Italy and Sicily likely formed by tectonic uplift during the Middle Pleistocene. As these changes occurred, marine terraces in coastal plains formed (Vattano et al. 2017: 91), along with very many caves along the limestone cliffs (Leighton 1999: 13). By the Upper Pleistocene, during the glacial ice age, the sea level had dropped by up to 120m, changing the landscape of the Mediterranean (Leighton 1999: 14).
Throughout the Upper Pleistocene, groups of small glaciers remained over the highest slopes of the Apennine mountains down to Calabria (Leighton 1999: 15). This ice age resulted in a much broader landscape than is seen today. Sardinia and Corsica became one island, the north Adriatic Sea became steppe-like, and Sicily was connected more widely to Italy but also to the Maltese islands (Leighton 1999: 14) and intermittently to Tunisia (Scmidtt et al 2021: 9). These connections in conjunction with ice age environmental factors play key roles in the spreading of fauna and later ancient humans.
At the end of the Pleistocene/Paleolithic, the climate rapidly changed, and as glaciers disappeared, sea levels rose finally creating the geographical boundaries that we see today (Leighton 1999: 16). At this point, both flora and fauna had been flourishing on the island for some time, and early man had been living in the limestone caves along the shore since at least the Upper Paleolithic (Leighton 1999: 11). How did they survive? A look into the resources available on the island will explain.
The natural resources within Sicily changed as time progressed, but the island after its formation did offer largely self-sufficient resources for survival (Bonanno 2008: 27). These range from resources for security, including housing, clothing, and defense, to resources for sustenance, including fertile soils, fresh water, mammals, birds, and fish, and several wild flora, to resources for occupational needs, including clay, stone, wood, and volcanic materials. While Sicily is lacking in a good supply of certain natural resources, such as metals, those resources that it did have were enough to allow for the development of society and the preservation of the human species. Below is a cursory look at just some of these natural resources.
Concerning resources for security, housing in the early stages of human occupation was limited to caves (Holloway 2000: 2). Scattered across the northern landscape along the sea, and still more spread around the island, these caves made ready habitats for early man, but as the ages progressed, caves became limited to intermittent occupational needs and burials. By the Neolithic, housing had moved away from caves and into farmsteads, thus requiring different resources (Leighton 1999: 71-2).
Village life, though difficult, could be made easier with certain materials. These included stone for wall foundations or entire walls, mortar, and tools, wood for posts, walls, or frames, and terrigenous materials for creating mud and clay. Ground stones allowed for the building of habitats as well as for the creation of defensive structures and weapons.
The sedimentary overlap during the formation of the island allowed for differing types of stones to be used, created from Tethyan and African surface units. The Tethyan units included basinal carbonates, such as limestone, formed from the Upper Jurassic-Oligocene, and terrigenous materials, such as clay, from the Upper Oligocene-Lower Miocene. The African units contained both deep-water carbonates, of the Mesozoic-Lower Miocene, and shelf carbonates, of the Meso-Cenozoic, as well as chert (Catalano 2002: 8-9). In addition, because of volcanistic activity, volcanic materials, such as sulfur, and igneous rocks, such as basalt, were available in a limited region.
Concerning wood, the entire Mediterranean was reshaped during the Quaternary geo-climatic fluctuations, destroying, remodeling, or reshaping almost all Tertiary vegetation (Cambria 2021: 69). By the time humans reached the shores of Sicily, wood materials on the island were plentiful. It is known from the pollen diagrams from Calabria in Italy that there were rich forests of the cypress family, woodlands with abietacea, open parklands, conifer trees with cedars at higher elevations, and deciduous woodlands (Leighton 1999: 15), and it can be assumed that the same was true just south on the island. In Sicily, during the Middle Pleistocene there were holm-oak, flowering ash, pine, hornbeam, cypress family, and coastal shrubs and grasses (Leighton 1999: 15), and the San Teodoro Cave during the Upper Pleistocene contains carbonized remains of oaks, maples, and wild plums and pears, all of which suggest colder conditions during the final glacial periods (Leighton 1999: 16). The extensive woodlands (Leighton 1999: 52) of ancient Sicily provided and would continue to provide wood resources such as lumber, charcoal, tool and weapon handles, fortifications, and all items needed for later societies to survive or thrive.
Perhaps the most important resource for developing societies are those related to the second category of sustenance. The primary natural resource on Sicily was agricultural (Whittaker 1974: 62), including fertile soils. The aboriginal plant foodstuffs in the Paleolithic-Mesolithic are difficult to ascertain, partly due to the inherent bias toward faunal research, but evidence from the broader Mediterranean revealed the consumption of starches, such as grasses, tubers or roots, as well as nuts and fruits (Cristiani 2018: 8-9). At the Uzzo cave in Sicily, evidence of wild legumes, acorns, and wild grapes was found (Mannino et al. 2015: 2). The main cereal crops in later history are not found before the neolithic period in Italy (Leighton 1999: 51-2), and therefore those will not be mentioned here.
Although evidence from the San Teodoro cave suggests a well balanced diet of both flora and fauna (Mannino et al. 2011: 3096), other sites show a heavy interest in animals, which could supply both food and clothing. The spread of fauna into Sicily most likely came through the presumed land bridge known as the Messina Formation (Leighton 1999: 13), and the stages of faunal introduction into Sicily are relegated into four main hypothesized associations, but the exact dates and evolutionary processes are unknown. These, in order, are the Monte Pellegrino stage, including weasels, hares, fieldmice, and dormice, the Spinagallo stage, with dwarf elephants, toads, tree frogs, turtles and tortoises, along with other reptiles and mammals, the Maccagnone stage, featuring the hippopotamus, elephant, deer, bison, cattle, wolves, bear, and more, and finally the Castello stage, including hedgehogs, equids, red deer, and other various species, including different species of the same genus that previously came to the island (Leighton 1999: 17-18). By the Middle Pleistocene to early Late Pleistocene, most of the large mammals, such as the elephant, had become extinct, just in time for a renewal of differing species, including the horse and smaller mammals (Mara 2009: 116). Of course, the most obvious source of protein on an island would come from fish, but fish will be discussed later.
Of extreme importance to survival, a sufficient supply of fresh water could be found in Sicily (Bonanno 2008: 27). High precipitation in the northeast mountain ranges of Sicily, along with prolonged snowcaps during the glacial period, supplied many streams and rivers, and while precipitation in the northwest mountains was lower, creating fewer watercourses, watercourses did still exist (Mannino 2011: 3099). Later in history, settlements could be found all along these water sources, sometimes in multiple phases (Leighton 1999: 66-7).
The final category, resources related to occupational needs, includes resources listed above, stone and wood, but also clay, metals, and possible exchange items such as amber. While the island is lacking in metal resources (di Bella 2018: 135), amber and other prestige materials could be found (Leighton 1999: 144). Of particular interest here is the presence of clay, a commodity not readily available on some of the smaller islands (Leighton 1999: 77). Clays of various kinds formed in Sicily from Tertiary layers (Catalano 2002: 9), and their plasticity and availableness made them useful for the construction of huts, pottery, and artistic or veneration objects.
In all, Sicily houses the natural resources that mankind needed to perpetuate itself into cultural groups, societies, and eventually into a province of a modern state. While some natural resources are not readily available on the island, those materials were readily available nearby. From obsidian at the island of Lipari to iron in the Italian Alps and Sardinia, as was discovered by mankind, the exchange of goods and materials would allow whatever was missing to find a use in the island.
The Island in Light of Its Geographical Neighbors
The geological formation of Sicily left the island in a phylogeographic isolation prior to the Pleistocene; Calabria existed as three separate islands, with major sections of central and northern Italy being submerged (Schmidtt 2021: 9-10). This biogeographical distinctiveness allowed the island to become what it is today. Of course, during the Pleistocene, when sea levels were quite low, connections to both Calabria (Leighton 1999: 13) and intermittent connections to Tunisia (Schmidtt 2021: 9) allowed for animal crossings along paths that would eventually become maritime trade routes to these familiar lands.
Closest geographically to Sicily is Calabria, mainland Italy, at only 3km distance. As noted above, Calabria was not always as close, and interestingly, Sicily has more biological similarities to Tunisia than to Calabria (Schmidtt 2021: 10). That said, since the Pleistocene Epoch, contact between Sicily and Calabria has continued, as evidenced by Upper Paleolithic assemblages (Holloway 2000: 12).
A little farther away from Sicily is Lipari, an island that could be seen from the Sicilian coast (Leighton 1999: 72). Lipari was visited as early as the Mesolithic, as evidenced by Lipari obsidian found in Sicily (Leighton 1999: 33). As an obsidian source, the small island of Lipari became crucial to exchange. In fact, obsidian sources in the western Mediterranean are found on only four islands: Pantelleria, Lipari, Palmarola, and Sardinia (Leighton 1999: 74), and the rather short distance between Lipari and the coast of Sicily, only 30km, made the small island an obvious choice to later inhabit. Unfortunately, Lipari was lacking in materials such as flint, non-volcanic stone, and usable clay (Leighton 1999: 77), meaning that an interdependence with Sicily was vital.
To the west, the metal-rich island of Sardinia became important, though this importance came indirectly through Aegean contact with Sicily. As the Mycenaeans ventured to Sardinia in search for metals, they necessarily passed the northeastern coast of Sicily, using the island as a port of call (Holloway 2000: 31). Earlier than that, there is a possible Beaker connection between southern Sardinia and certain tombs in the Belice valley in western Sicily (Leighton 1999: 110-11).
Perhaps the most influential neighbor to Sicily was the Aegean. From very early times, there had been contact between the two regions (Holloway 2000: 23). A major focus of this chapter will be to highlight the effect of Aegean contact (see below).
Early Inhabitants: The Development of Sicilian Civilization
The appearance of modern man in Sicily occurred sometime after 30,000 B.C., as evidenced by flint tools from Fontana Nuova (Holloway 2000: 2). Most Mediterranean islands were not inhabited during the Paleolithic periods. Besides Sicily, only Sardinia had human presence during the Upper Paleolithic, and although both islands possibly contain human residence during the Lower Paleolithic, those evidences are scarce (Leighton 1999: 11). It was not until the end of the Upper Paleolithic Age that sites begin to multiply (Holloway 2000: 2), and many sites contain characteristic assemblages of tools that have been discovered in caves and increasingly from surface surveys inland (Leighton 1999: 22-23).
A part of the Upper Paleolithic, the term Epigravettian refers to the flint industry (Holloway 2000: 2) and is a cultural facies within the Upper Paleolithic Age. At times, the terms Epigravettian and Upper Paleolithic are used interchangeably, but just as with the Pleistocene and Paleolithic, the dates do not correspond perfectly.
Mentioned above, the term Mesolithic refers to the Paleolithic post-glacial age (Holloway 2000: 5), but due to ambiguities in past excavations, there is some question concerning the distinction between Paleolithic and Mesolithic assemblages in Sicily showing a possible cultural continuity (Leighton 1999: 12). In fact, the term Mesolithic is problematic in the broader region as many of the Mesolithic characteristics begin in the Final Epigravettian at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, thus blurring the distinction. Because of this, the term Epipaleolithic is sometimes used instead (Leighton 1999: 30). Although difficult, it is only beginning in the Final Epigravettian at the end of the Upper Paleolithic that there can be any surety of approximate dates (Leighton 1999: 26).
Sites: Seaside caves and exploration
As already noted, Upper Paleolithic inhabitants sheltered under rock outcroppings and caves, and these are common on the northern coast around Palermo (Holloway 2000: 2). Several key sites have been identified and provide great detail about the Paleolithic-Mesolithic lifestyle, and even the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (Leighton 1999: 31-2). These sites will be described below when discussing the cultural relevance, but by way of introduction, a few will be named here.
The more prominent early site in Western Sicily is that of Grotta dell’Uzzo. Although sporadically occupied in the Upper Paleolithic, Uzzo was regularly occupied by hunter-gatherers in the Mesolithic and by agro-pastoralists during the Neolithic, thus revealing the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (Mannino 2015: 2).
In addition, the northeastern cave of Grotta di San Teodoro reveals much about early Sicilians. Opening in Jurassic limestone, the Grotta di San Teodoro cave is rather large, being 20 m wide and 60 m long, and contains evidence of Upper Paleolithic feeding practices, stone tools, and burials (Bonfiglio et al. 2001: 149-50).
Many more caves in Sicily reveal ancient life, such as the Addaura, Genovesi, and Niscemi caves which contain art work dated by style and content to the late Upper Paleolithic (Leighton 1999: 38). Additionally, Fontana Nuova, mentioned above, may contain the earliest lithics in Sicily (Holloway 2000: 2).
While caves were obviously used for both habitation and ritual purposes, outdoor camps also existed, as evidenced by scattered surface finds. The site of Rocca San Marco in the Nebrodi mountains likely acted as just a hunting camp (Leighton 1999: 28), and this act of following the food supply, particularly deer, away from the coast and into higher terrain (Leighton 1999: 31) must had led to later in-land camps and possible permanent settlements. It may be that Mesolithic behavioral patterns led to a later adoption of farming (Leighton 1999: 34).
Technology: Early technology
As noted before, there is difficulty in differentiating between Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic assemblages. In fact, certain Mesolithic assemblages, such as those in trench A: 6-21 at Uzzo, may be termed an ‘Epigravettian-tradition microlithic facies’ because they contain both Upper Paleolithic/Epigravettian and Mesolithic features (Lo Vetro et al. 2016: 289). Because of these difficulties, there are risks when presuming a straightforward evolution of stone tools (Leighton 1999: 24), but they can still be separated into their differing facies based on techno-typological features (Colonese et al. 2017: 132).
The Upper Paleolithic Age, or Late Epigravettian, in Sicily is characterized by having very many medium to large tools in its assemblage. Several blades up to 50mm long are attested, and while smaller blades did exist, they were larger than the microliths seen on mainland Italy at the same time (Colonese et al. 2017: 130).
The hallmark of Mesolithic stone tools is microlitization (Leighton 1999: 30), and these smaller sizes, including arrows, are seen across the island. The Mesolithic assemblages of Sicily are divided into three different facies: an Epigravettian-tradition microlithic facies, hinted at before, a Sauveterrian-like facies, and the Undifferentiated Epipalaeolithic (Lo Vetro et al. 2016: 279). The former is the earliest of the three, and as the name describes, some features reveal the continuation of Epigravettian tradition. The second is partially coeval with the first, but the reduction methods used were unknown to the Epigravettian culture (Colonese et al. 2017: 132). The third facies, termed Undifferentiated, seems poorly made with a rather low technical involvement. This facies overlaps with the Sauveterrian-like facies at several sites (Lo Vetro et al. 2016: 290-93).
Concerning typology and lithogany, a significant amount of stone materials come from two provinces: Catania, including many scrapers, points, denticulates, and choppers made primarily of quartzite but also of flint and other stones, and Agrigento, including denticulates, scrapers, and quartzite bifacials. Although there is some evidence from morphology that these date to the Lower Paleolithic, there are striking similarities to later stone tools (Leighton 1999: 21-22).
Culture: Food, Art, and Burials
The final phase of the Epigravettian contains the most numerous sites up to that point and, it begins an increase of variation in hunting and gathering strategies (Leighton 1999: 22). By the Mesolithic, a flexible but slow change is made as the climate and environment changed. For some, following wild game led groups deeper inland and into higher elevations, but others stayed on the coast and introduced fish and shellfish to their diet (Leighton 1999: 31). These coastal sustenance changes are well documented at the Uzzo Cave.
Here, bones of wild mammals, small mammals, and birds are evenly distributed and predominate in the earlier Mesolithic level. Later Mesolithic levels show a rather high percentage of red deer, with a much lower percentage of wild pig, and infrequent consumption of wild cattle and birds (Leighton 1999: 31-32). By the latest Mesolithic levels, as the sea waters rose (Holloway 2000: 5-6), fishing grew in importance and many different types of marine life were consumed, including several species of both dolphin and whale. Of course, red deer and wild pig continue, along with fox, wildcat, and dog (Leighton 1999: 32).
Of particular interest concerning culture during this period is evidence of cave art (Leighton 1999: 22). In Sicily, more than twenty sites containing cave art have been recorded (Leighton 1999: 38), some of which is extremely elegant (Holloway 2000: 3). While most have simple linear incisions, three caves contain very many exceptional figures, the Grotta dell'Addaura, Cala dei Genovesi, and Grotta Niscemi caves. Almost all of the images are engraved, and they have been dated by style and content to the late Upper Paleolithic (Leighton 1999: 38). The cave of Genovesi, on the island of Levanzo just off the Sicilian west coast, included the depiction of a bovine creature (Holloway 2000: 2). Similarly, in the cave of Addaura, on Monte Pellegrino, a ritual scene containing bovine, deer, equines, and humans is found, the humans appearing to be animated in different poses (Holloway 2000: 4-5), possibly even a form of dance (Budano 2019: 596).
As noted above, both the style and the content, bovine, deer, horse, etc., are similar to artwork elsewhere. There are some subject matter and styles found in these caves that also occur in southern Italy (Leighton 1999: 38), and there are also similarities with art in southern France and Spain (Holloway 2000: 2-3). Thus, shared traditions and contacts are possible (Leighton 1999: 39), if not likely. Another tradition that became widespread during the Paleolithic-Mesolithic is that of burial.
Although in existence earlier, the practice of burial becomes widespread in Upper Paleolithic Europe, and Italy appears to have a higher amount than usual, the majority of which date to the Final Epigravettian (Leighton 1999: 34). In all, more than fifty Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic human skeletons have been discovered in broader Italy (Mussi 1986: 545).
As an example of a cave burial in Sicily, seven human skeletons were discovered at the San Teodoro Cave. Only one was well preserved, while the others were damaged by human disturbance. Each was placed about a meter apart, likely in shallow pits, in an extended position. Grave goods included antler and deer bone, smooth pebbles, a necklace made of deer teeth, and a possible hyena skull. Over top of the burial a thin layer of red ocher was placed (Leighton 1999: 36).
Although damaged by human disturbance, as above, three human skeletons were found at Grotta d’Oriente, one dating to the Upper Paleolithic, and the other two to the Mesolithic. While Oriente C, the oldest burial, contained no grave goods, except a pierced shell and several lumps of red ochre, the stratigraphic and taphonomic attributes suggest a sequential funerary ritual, furthering an in-depth understanding of Paleolithic life (Catalano et al. 2020: 27-28).
The cave at Uzzo is likely the most important site concerning the transition away from the Mesolithic. Although twelve human burials date to the Mesolithic, one of the largest Mesolithic burials in the Mediterranean, and the site contains a long sequence of Mesolithic archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological remains along with many Mesolithic artifacts (Mannino and Thomas 2007: 24), the Neolithic remains contain evidence of domestication of animals and plants revealing a transitory period.
In other parts of the world, population pressure or a post-glacial food crisis pushed Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to agriculture in order to solve the problem. Having none of these issues, the change from Mesolithic to Neolithic in Sicily occurred slowly, one of the bases of the Neolithic Age being the domestication of both plants and animals (Holloway 2000: 7). Being a part of a broad cultural province with southern Italy, and even in some ways the Balkans and further west (Leighton 1999: 65), the Italian region remained Mesolithic hunters and gatherers while the Near East flourished in Neolithic agricultural life (Holloway 2000: 7). When farmers from the Near East searched for better and less inhabited lands, they found the region uncultivated and ripe, ultimately bringing Neolithic immigrants and therefore farming to Sicily.
Although chronologically uncertain, the Early Neolithic seems to be characteristic of the sixth millennium, the Middle of the fifth, and the Late Neolithic being characteristic of the early and middle fourth millennium (Holloway 2000: 10). Of course, absolute dates have not been determined as the question of overlap is yet to be answered (Leighton 1999: 60).
By the latter half of the six millennium B.C., Neolithic villages were widespread in the coastal regions across both southern Italy and Sicily, and Malta and some of the smaller islands became inhabited (Leighton 1999: 54). While regional patterns in Early Neolithic sites on the Apulian Tavoliere in southern Italy began with many ditched sites, Sicilian Early Neolithic and Middle Neolithic sites have yet to show a regional pattern. Sites are found occupying hillocks on the coast, hilltops further inland, and surface surveys reveal possible settlements along major rivers, smaller torrents, and even around the foothills of Etna, and sites near water sources often show several phases of occupation (Leighton 1999: 66-67).
Sites: Settlement Structure and Immigration
Rather than as an autonomous development, the move to farming societies in Italy and ultimately Sicily appear to have come through cultural contact. The process of selectively adopting ideas of neighboring settlements is not likely as there is no evidence of autonomous domestication before the introduction of external domesticates, pottery, or other aspects of Neolithic life. The sheep and goat found in Neolithic Italy are not represented in the wild fauna of the region before this time, and neither are the main cereal crops. Ultimately, a western Asiatic origin is assumed. In the case of cattle and pigs, a cross breeding of local varieties and imported species is most likely (Leighton 1999: 51-52).
The rather rapid establishment of early Neolithic sites and their agricultural regime in the region was most likely brought about due to the introduction of immigrants carrying both knowledge and equipment with them (Leighton 1999: 53). With the cultivation of crops and increasing population, culturally Mesolithic hunters-gatherers intent on adopting the agricultural practice abandoned their stone shelters in order to be closer to their crops, thus creating farmsteads (Holloway 2000: 7).
These Neolithic settlement structures were quite varied, including masonry foundations, timber-formed rectangular buildings like those in central Europe, circular residential structures with walls packed with clay similar to those of the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Europe, and ditched settlements as in Apulia (Leighton 1999: 71-72).
A number of ditched sites existed in eastern Sicily. Although several hypotheses concerning the purpose of these ditches have been put forward, the presence of a wall or palisade along the ditch at Stentanello and Megara lend to the idea of defense (Leighton 1999: 69). At Stentinello the ditch was dug into the limestone and reinforced with a palisade. Villages around the Syracuse area were delimited only by ditches. By comparison, settlements in the Agrigento region in southern Sicily contained remains of an enclosure wall without a ditch. Defense appeared to be important, but there does not seem to be a typical ‘Stentinello’ village pattern of defensive measures (Holloway 2000: 8-9).
Technology: Domestication and Pottery
From the very beginning of this era, both domestic cereals and domestic animals played a vital role in the economy, but the act of hunting continued in a diminished nature, and fishing, as a practical aspect of sustenance gathering, actually increased at this time. Thus, the Early Neolithic Age became a mixed economy (Yu et al. 2022: 22).
Evidence from the Uzzo cave, in the west, shows continued occupation for the Mesolithic into the Early Neolithic, and although there is some speculation as to whether or not experimental domestication of the wild pig occurred during the Mesolithic (Tagliacozzo 2005: 435-36), domestication as a whole was not introduced until the Neolithic. In the earliest Neolithic phases at Uzzo, besides fish, deer continued to be the primary food source, but by the last Neolithic phase, caprines, an import, are by far the dominant mammalian meat source (Leighton 1999: 56-58). Of interest, Uzzo contained a rather low percentage of cattle remains (Rowley-Conwy et al. 2013: 163), likely due to the rugged terrain which is not suitable for domesticated cattle (Leighton 1999: 58).
In the east, the move to Neolithic domestication was rapid, likely due to the favorable environment that allowed for agriculture and the raising of cattle. These eastern coastal plains sites showed evidence of two different varieties of cattle, as well as sheep, goats, and pig (Leighton 1999: 59). In fact, Stentinello, on the eastern coast, shows a complete lack of wild game in exchange for domesticated mammals (Holloway 2000: 9).
By the sixth millennium B.C., drastic change in material culture brought about by Neolithic agriculturism included the addition of pottery (Holloway 2000: 7). There has been much debate over the last century as to the sequencing of Neolithic pottery in Calabria-Sicily. One theory posited over half a century ago based on northern Calabrian excavations placed the sequence as follows: Impressed Ware, Painted Wares, and finally Diana Ware, adding the southern Calabria-Sicilian style of Stentinello Ware somewhere in between depending upon the scholar (Robb and Marino 2021: xviii). Today, the sequence is slightly altered. Stentinello Ware is understood as a type of Impressed Ware geographically centered in southern Calabria and Sicily (Quero, Martinelli, and Giordano 2019: 69). Stentinello Ware, named after the site in Sicily of the same name (Leighton 1999: 61), covers both the Early and the Middle Neolithic, and Diana Ware in the Late Neolithic follows Stentinello Impressed Ware (Robb and Marino 2021: xviii-xx).
Beyond a simple pottery assemblage, the Stentinello culture developed as a separate cultural facies that spread from the eastern Mediterranean along with Neolithic lifestyles, and this culture was present in most Early and Middle Neolithic settlements in southern Calabria and Sicily (Scarcella, Bouquillon, and Leclaire 2011: 153). Having such a wide distribution, it has been separated into six regional sub-styles: western Calabria, southern Ionian Calabria, Etna, the southeastern coast of Sicily, Malta, and Monte Kronio (Leighton 1999: 61-62).
Possibly having lasted as long as 2000 years (Leighton 1999: 62), Stentinello Impressed Ware ranges from simple to complex, consisting of rather course wares and finer wares with geometric decorations (Mckendry 2015: 7), which are assumed to have started as textile decorations (Holloway 2000: 27), all of which were hand made. The earliest of this assemblage is sometimes termed Pre-Stentinello Ware (Holloway 2000: 8), but its existence as a separate assemblage is not certain (Robb and Marino 2021: xx).
The date for the beginning of Painted Wares in Sicily is difficult to ascertain. Bichrome and trichrome pottery in Sicily is associated with Stentinello Ware, though the earlier contacts at Stretto, Piano Vento, and Castellero Vecchio on Lipari only contain small amounts (Leighton 1999: 63). Scarce in the region (Robb and Marino 2021: xx), this pottery is usually more carefully made, containing little temper, a polished surface, and the beige or brown fabric is decorated with zigzags, curvilinear designs, or red bands and rays with a black border, with some typical forms similar to those on the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy called Capri ware (Leighton 1999: 63).
Culture: Complimentary Exchange
Exotic materials were exchanged throughout the Mediterranean and prehistoric Europe since the Upper Paleolithic period (Holloway 2000: 12), and the first evidence of the visitation of small islands around Sicily comes from the Mesolithic (Leighton 1999: 33), but although obsidian from Lipari was used in Sicily as early as the Mesolithic, the obsidian-rich island was not inhabited until the Early Neolithic (Leighton 1999: 72) at the beginning stages of the obsidian trade (Holloway 2000: 12).
It was the contrasting resources available to Sicily and its neighbors in conjunction with maritime potential that led to multiple exchange networks (Leighton 1999: 74). Even though obsidian sources in the western Mediterranean are found on four islands, Pantelleria, Lipari, Palmarola, and Sardinia (Freund, Tykot, and Vianello 2015: 208), Lipari, only 30km from the Sicilian coast, became the dominant source of obsidian throughout Sicily and most of southern Italy (Leighton 1999: 74). With time, obsidian replaced flint as the material of choice for most tools throughout the region (Holloway 2000: 10), and this need for obsidian throughout Sicily and nearby territories naturally led to the creation of an exchange network. Because of this, both the Neolithic and Bronze Age saw normalized maritime contacts (Leighton 1999: 72-73).
Although obsidian sources were limited to a few islands, Sicily had very numerous deposits of usable flint in the Hyblaean region of the island. Flint was still used in the production of sickle blades even during the height of obsidian use, and therefore Hyblaean flint became a material of need that was distributed during the Stentinello phase to Malta, eastern Sicily, and maybe even to Lipari (Leighton 1999: 76-77). Other materials found in isolated geographical regions also became desired. Basalts from Etna and the Hyblaean were used for work-axes and millstones. Smaller, often ornamental greenstone from Northern Calabria was also used for axes, and occasionally jade or eclogite from alpine sources are found in southern Italy and Malta towards the end of the Neolithic period. With Lipari obsidian being found in the north, perhaps these ornamental jade or eclogite axes were items of exchange (Leighton 1999: 77).
Lipari, lacking in raw materials such as flint, non-volcanic stone, and usable clay, became a central point in the exchange network. Just as Lipari obsidian is found throughout the region, so goods from elsewhere came into the island of Lipari, including high-quality clay from northern Sicily, flint from Sicily, and greenstones, small stone axes, and fibrillate from Calabria or Sicily, some of which tended to be finished products rather than raw materials (Leighton 1999: 77). The exchanging of goods and raw materials throughout the Neolithic no doubt bolstered the spread of ideas and innovations (Leighton 1999: 66).
Being further away, the Maltese islands were less frequented during the Neolithic, but the culture remained similar to Neolithic Sicily, including building techniques paralleled to Piano Vento. Domesticated flora and fauna, including barley and sheep, were no doubt introduced from Sicily, and the presence of Lipari obsidian shows continued exchange (Leighton 1999: 73).
One can assume that goods such as shell ornaments, colorful pebbles, various skins and hides, and pottery were exchanged throughout the island of Sicily. In fact, the range of outside items, and the presence of high-quality pottery, at the eastern Sicilian ditched sites shows evidence of this regional exchange network (Leighton 1999: 77).
Overall, the great dispersion of raw materials throughout Sicily and its geographic neighbors created a complementary stability where elaborate material items, including fine pottery and prestige tools, could be created without concentrated power or inequality. This also led to sophisticated technology like high temperature firing of pottery and the early experimentation of copper (Leighton 1999: 77-78). This wide social interaction may explain why early farming communities held shared characteristics over large geographical areas. Unfortunately, these exchange networks also led to the collection of prestige items such as for display and weaponry that ultimately brought the status enhancements during later post-Neolithic ages (Leighton 1999: 78).
A Hierarchy: Growing Conflict and Trade
In Peninsular Italy, there is some debate as to the existence of the Copper Age (Dolfini 2020: 507). In many ways, the Early Copper Age continued Late Neolithic social and economic norms, and the Late Copper Age began features of the Early Bronze Age (Leighton 1999: 88-89), yet radical changes occurred that began a social revolution around the Mediterranean (Brea 1957: 61).
In Sicily, population growth, and thus competition over land and resources, the increasingly uneven lifestyles in different territories, social tensions, and possibly even armed conflict led to a transition away from the complementary stability of the Neolithic to the unsettled regionalism of the Copper Age (Leighton 1999: 87-88).
Gradually (Brea 1957: 67), the Neolithic exchange networks fell (Freund, Tykot, and Vianello 2017: 35). For those cultures that survived the collapse of the Neolithic complimentary stability, their hallmarks were originality, diversity, and innovation (Leighton 1999: 88). The Sicilian Copper Age lasted at least a thousand years giving way to the Castelluccian or the Early Bronze (Leighton 1999: 93).
Sites: Caves and Settlements
Not much changes concerning size or location from Neolithic to Copper Age settlements, but during the Copper Age, sites become much more numerous (Kolb 2007: 174). Until recently, much of what was known about Copper Age settlements was conjecture (Leighton 1999: 88) and primarily came from caves (Leighton 1999: 93). One such site, Serraferlicchio, contained a rather large amount of both plain, burnished pottery and fine painted ware (see below) now referred to by the site name (Gullì 2014: 69-71). Additionally, the most important metal finds from the Late Copper Age come from caves, including Grotta Chiusazza and Grotta Palombara (Leighton 1999: 104).
While caves account for a great number of Copper Age sites, ranging across the island and seemingly used as temporary shelters, burials, dwellings, or even cultic locations (Leighton 1999: 101), over the past twenty years, numerous Copper Age settlements have been discovered (Parkinson et al. 2021: 326). Settlement sites are found in many landscape locales, generally expanding into the uplands (Parkinson et al. 2021: 328). It is important to note that numerous Neolithic sites in the east once associated with the Neolithic exchange network were scarcely populated during the Copper Age (Leighton 1999: 100), and some Neolithic sites in the east appear to have been largely unused during this time (Parkinson et al. 2021: 328). The region of the earlier ditched Neolithic sites now suffered from a low population. Interestingly, the Early Bronze Age sites in this eastern region often showed signs of defensive measures (Leighton 1999: 100).
Based on subsistence patterns at these sites, there was likely a growing reliance on sheep and goat, and secondarily spinning and weaving, though cattle were present, and hunting of deer and wild pig continued. If continental parallels hold, the use of oxen for traction and plowing would also be present (Leighton 1999: 88).
Technology: Pottery, Metallurgy, and Weapons
Items associated with subsistence and household economics which began at the end of the Neolithic become quite common in the Copper Age, most notably spindle whirls, bobbins, and loom weights (Leighton 1999: 108). The pottery of the Copper Age, as well, continued many earlier traditions, but there was a new range of forms, including the flask, closed jars, shallow bowls, and askoi (Robb 2007: 298). There seem to be some parallels between Sicilian Copper Age and Aegean, Anatolian, Cypriot, and Near Eastern pottery, mainly reflecting basic shapes and traits that may simply be coincidental. By the Late Copper Age and Early Bronze Age, these parallels become more specific, especially long-necked jugs with rounded bodies that may reflect Cypriot affinities. This could have been due to migrations, exchange, or diffusing of contacts between neighboring regions. Trading between Sicily, Calabria, and Apulia is postulated based on obsidian, greenstones, and other stones and metal, but there is a lack of evidence of trade with the Aegean, and there is no sign of flourishing trading posts on the Sicilian coast (Leighton 1999: 108-10).
Sequencing at Grota Chiusazza illustrates Late Neolithic through Copper Age ceramics. Following the Diana phase in the Late Neolithic is the Conzo style painted pottery, the Piano Notaro incised pottery, and dark burnished wares which represent the Early Copper Age. Serraferlicchio painted ware appears commonly in the middle of the Copper Age. Finally, Malpaso and Castelluccio wares of the Late Copper Age were discovered (Leighton 1999: 91), thus this site helps to build a chronology for Copper Age pottery assemblages. It is interesting to note that the Late Copper Age Serraferlicchio pottery, black-on-red and sometimes white geometric decorations, continued the pointed stylistic traditions in southern Sicily, but some other Late Copper Age styles, such as the Malpaso, show a departure from previous traditions that led into the Early Bronze Age (Leighton 1999: 108).
Although termed the Copper Age, only a few metal items have been discovered in Sicily (Leighton 1999: 87), some even remarking that Sicily has a Copper Age without the existence of copper (Robb 2007: 299). In fact, it should be noted that metallurgical knowledge appears to have come to Sicily intact from outside along with raw materials (Tanasi et al. 2019: 128). Only recently was a potential for the production of metals in Sicily known, and scattered deposits of lead, copper, zinc, silver, iron, arsenic, and antimony could be found at surface outcrops on Monti Peloritani. While there is no evidence of Copper Age extraction, metal slag has been discovered at Late Neolithic to Early Copper Age Lipari, showing at least knowledge of the existence of metal early on (Leighton 1999: 103).
The introduction of metals in this region during the Copper Age occurred first on the periphery of the obsidian trade network and slowly moved toward Lipari and therefore Sicily and Calabria, which, having close proximity to Lipari, were last to accept metal usage. The earliest of the metal artifacts in either Sicily or Calabria are pins, beads, and other decorative implements. Obsidian continued to be used for blades and was likely gradually replaced with copper-based metals (Vianello and Tykot 2016: 732), but stone technology for toolmaking continued to be important (Leighton 1999: 104).
As a part of this new social regionalism typified by complicated trade networks and even social conflict, newly manufactured items included not only fine pottery and copper tools, but also weaponry (Kolb 2007: 174). Stone-working production created pressure flaked arrowheads, ground axes, and mace-heads (Leighton 1999: 87-88), with the stone mace-head being well represented during this period and including three different varieties (Brea 1957: 66).
It is important that the use of obsidian was significantly reduced during this period (Vianello and Tykot 2016: 732), likely due to the rising nature of metallurgy in the region (Robb 2007: 299) at a time when maritime exchange increased bringing the addition of new prestige items. This is contrary to the eastern Mediterranean where the use of obsidian continues through the Bronze Age (Freund, Tykot, and Vianello 2017: 43). Contrary to many others, it should be noted that some argue that copper was far too common regionally in this period to be considered a prestige material (Dolfini 2020: 541).
Culture: Unsettled Regionalism
During the Copper Age, complex social structures were formed in Sicily, and eventually chiefdoms would emerge from these social institutions (Kolb 2007: 174). Much of the later second millennium power structures, ideologies, subsistence regimes, and cultural traditions are rooted in this period (Leighton 1999: 90). These regional variations are suggested by visible Copper Age patterns of human landscape (Leighton 1999: 99-100).
Due in part to social tensions and possible conflict, there existed three cultural facies without identifiable boundaries, namely: northeastern Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, southern Sicily, and western Sicily. The first held close ties with southern Italy and did not consistently use painted wares. The second contained unique burial and ritual practices and continued local exchange networks. The last, consisting of the western provinces and specifically the Conca D’Oro settlements around Palermo, contained common features of the first two (Leighton 1999: 87).
One interesting and yet unanswered question concerning the Copper Age is the existence of the Beaker Complex. The southeastern boundary of beaker distribution, which is found throughout northern and central Europe, Iberia, and north-central Italy, is the island of Sicily. Here, beakers first appear just before 2500 B.C. in Late Copper Age Malpaso-San Ippolito contexts, and they are distributed primarily in the northwest (Leighton 1999: 110). This complex is found in a British Isles, the Rhineland, central Europe, and in Italy. Interestingly, Beaker Complex tombs seem to be isolated from the cultures in which they appear (Holloway 2000: 30).
In northern Italy, beaker pottery sometimes stands in contrast to local assemblages, thus, a population influx seems likely. In metal rich areas such as southern Sardinia and Tuscany, perhaps trade brought the beaker assemblages. Western Sicily had no obvious resources for trade, and beakers appear to be only an addition to the local pottery, even being copied into the local tradition. Thus, long-distance trade could have introduced these beakers as prestige items causing locally made counterparts. The desire for exotic materials, metallurgy, and even hierarchical social structures may have encouraged maritime voyages of exploration. Of course, these beakers are also associated with the Belice tombs similar to those found in Sardinia, so migration cannot be ruled out (Leighton 1999: 110-11).
Early Bronze Age
The most widespread and well-known cultural facies of the Early Bronze Age is termed Castelluccian (Cultraro 2004: 201) after the site of Castelluccio in the Tellaro River Valley near Syracuse (Crispino and Cultraro 2016: 211) whose richly decorated pottery (see below) became a characterization of the Early Bronze Age in Sicily (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 110). Early Bronze Age cultural patterns tended to follow those of the Late Copper Age (Leighton 1999: 113), and overall, there appears to have been a gradual change from those prior traditions towards a consolidation of trends (Brea 1957: 99), including differing burial practices and plain and incised pottery, the first being represented by the earliest Castelluccian Culture and the latter ultimately leading to the Milazzese and Thapsos complexes of the Middle Bronze Age (Leighton 1999: 114).
There is some contrast in early cultural patterns among the Castelluccian cultural complex, primarily in the south and west, Rodì, Tindari, and Vallelunga (RTV), primarily in the north, and Capo Graziano, in the Aeolian islands (Doonan 2001: 164), the latter two showing more similarities with the Proto-Appennine and Palma Campania of southern Italy. Additionally the earliest phase at Capo Graziano compares to Early Helladic III pottery, showing signs of contacts with the Aegean by at least 2200 B.C. (Leighton 1999: 113).
In the cave at Chiusazza, Castelluccian pottery was found between the Late Copper Age Malpaso and Middle Bronze Age Thapsos material culture (Leighton 1999: 113), thus safely wedging the Castelluccian into the Early Bronze Age. Based on 14C dates from Muculufa and Monte Grande, the Early Bronze Age dates to 2500–1700 cal. B.C. (Leighton 1999: 113), though the traditional chronology is listed as 1800–1400 B.C. (Brea 1957: 115). Although the distinction between chronology and simple regional patterns is difficult to ascertain, the extended chronology is supported by widespread and a large quantity of pottery assemblages and sites leading to a subdivision of Early Bronze 1 (EB1), 2500–2000, and Early Bronze 2 (EB2), 2000–1500 (Leighton 1999: 113), and it is possible to view the Castelluccian culture in three phases: Proto-Castelluccio, with affinities with and contemporary too Late Copper Age San Ippolito and Nora styles, Castelluccio proper, represented greatly in the Hyblaean region, and the Late Castelluccio, being more simply decorated (Leighton 1999: 138-39). Compared to an Aegean chronology, the Castelluccian culture was contemporaneous with Middle Helladic (Brea 1957: 115).
Sites: Settlements and Tombs
Representing the Castelluccian culture, Early Bronze Age sites are found throughout southeastern Sicily, especially in the central-southern regions (Doonan 2001: 164) and primarily on promontories or hilltops with a view of the coastal plains and even river valleys inland. Surveys around Morgantina revealed more numerous Late Copper Age/Early Bronze Age surface finds than potsherds of any other previous periods, widely distributed over areas from hilltops to valleys (Leighton 1999: 114). Small sites close to fertile lands at differing elevations on the Etnean slopes increased at this time, most likely reflecting seasonal shepherding activities or the search for raw materials (Branca et al. 2021: 11-12). In central and western Sicily, Early Bronze Age sites tended to be placed at higher elevations on rocky promontories, these being defensible, overlooking travel routes through valleys, and are found both inland and along the coasts (Leighton 1999: 114).
As a whole, Castelluccian settlements showed great diversity of size, organization, and even duration of habitation. A typical farming village may house between fifty to a hundred individuals in close proximity and subsist on either small-scale agronomy or large-scale pastoralism (Cultraro 2004: 201).
Two settlements on the Serra Orlando ridge at Morgantina give more details about Early Bronze Age life. The oval shaped huts consisted of stone wall foundations and included pits, fictile horns, bone points, spindle whirls and bobbins, and both ground and flaked stone implements. A large settlement of circular huts, including a single hut measuring to 8 m in diameter, was discovered at La Salinelle. The site contained a stone lined pit and is associated with chamber tombs within the vicinity. Nearby, another settlement was found at Poggio Biddini and included huts with walls laced with timber. Additionally, there were found pits, an oven, silos or wells dug into the rock, pottery, lithics, and both domestic and wild animal bones (Leighton 1999: 118).
It is during the Castelluccian that the chamber tomb came above ground. The chamber tomb, itself, was being used for a thousand years before this on Malta, in Sicily, and in Southern Italy, where the oldest chamber tomb dates to about the Late Neolithic and is contemporary with Diana pottery (Holloway 2000: 22). The chamber tomb likely originated in the east, as it is also found in Cyprus, the Peloponnesus, etc. (Brea 1957: 66). Before the existence of chamber tombs, the dead were placed within the community, but it is suggested that with it, they are given their own ‘houses’ (Holloway 2000: 23).
These rock-cut chamber tombs are located all across the Sicilian landscape, typically carved into calcareous rock outcroppings, and they often consist of one stone sealed chamber containing multiple inhumations (Cantisani 2020: 116). The chamber tomb was the dominant practice throughout the Castelluccian culture, but natural caves were also used, and rarely dolmenic structures are found (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 110). Although widespread in southeastern Italy (Catacchio 2018: 425), chamber tombs containing a dromos are rare in Sicily (Cantisani 2020: 117). Even with the differing styles of funerary practice, generally, grave goods consisted of pottery, flint, stone or bone artifacts, and amber beads (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 110).
Technology: Architecture, Pottery, and Life Tools
Castelluccian domestic architecture varies broadly, and while few Early Bronze Age sites have been excavated thoroughly, those that have reveal the basic shapes of dwellings as circular, elliptical (Leighton 1999: 116-18), or rarely rectangular, and some sites contained all three in different phases (Crispino 2019: 1074). Most settlements were small and consisted of only a few huts clustered together around open spaces, and they were, generally speaking, not cut off from one another by an enclosure wall (Doonan 2001: 165).
Along the coast of Manfria, west of Gela, a site consisting of a cluster of three and another cluster of six huts forming two possible farmsteads (Holloway 2000: 23) were extensively excavated. The predominantly elliptical huts contained a central and four to five perimeter post holes, and the floor was sunken and plastered. Interestingly, two rather large huts, one larger than 10 m in length (Holloway 2000: 23), may have acted as communal buildings or possibly in a ritual function (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 110). Cooking appears to have occurred outside, and there was little hunting. Instead, the inhabitants relied on sheep and goat, pig, and some cattle (Holloway 2000: 23).
Near Camarina, the Castelluccian site at Branco Grande contains circular huts measuring approximately 6 m in diameter. Lack of interior posts support the concept of wattle and daub walls and a thatched roof made of light materials. These walls rested on a low stone base (Holloway 2000: 23), and the settlement was surrounded by 100 m wall that protected the eastern side of the village (Cantisani 2020: 136). Very many individual settlements in the Castelluccian complex similarly were composed of circular huts clustered around open spaces comprised of wattle and daub on stone foundations. These sites are at times quite large, based on sherd scatters, and some of the largest sites include Castelluccio, Branco Grande, and La Muculufa (Doonan 2001: 165).
At the site of Santa Febronia, a hut was discovered with familiar Castelluccian architecture as seen above, including the low stone foundation. Destroyed by fire, the architecture and objects were left relatively in their original positions. Of interest, two classes of pottery were discovered: painted ware, which were mainly fine, decorated vessels with geometric designs of black on a red background, and monochrome ware, which was smoothed and slipped, and decorated with bosses and cordons. The first included pottery such as the pedestal bowl, pitcher, olla, amphora, beaker, and cup. The monochrome pottery consisted of cooking pots, pedestal bowls, and cups (Mentesana 2015: 259).
Interestingly, the Early Bronze Age turned to elaborate decoration of its pottery and eventually away from the monochrome styles from before. This Castelluccian technique has its roots in the Serraferlicchio Ware of the Neolithic, but the move to geometric designs may be explained by finds at La Muculufa and in the complex Castelluccian pottery in the west of Sicily (Holloway 2000: 27-28), specifically in the rather fine and even exotic pottery found at sanctuaries (Cultraro 2004: 202). It may be theorized that competition to votively offer increasingly finer and more beautiful pottery fueled a rebirth of painted pottery. Thus, the popularity and painted wares may have gone hand-in-hand with the creation of multi–community sanctuaries (Holloway 2000: 27-28).
Overall, Castelluccian pottery is more of a union of regional groups (cf., Russell 2017: 10), as regions were clearly in contact with each other but kept their own identity and style (Holloway 2000: 21). Decorated in black (sometimes outlined in white) on a red slip, it was patterned after the colors of Serraferlicchio pottery, though with different designs (Holloway 2000: 20).
The basic Castelluccian domestic ceramic service was composed of a pedestaled vase with a deep basin, for serving either solids or liquids, and a pitcher, for dipping and drinking. Other vessels are found along with these, depending on the site (Maniscalco 1999: 185-88). This basic assemblage formed a ceramic arrangement that became the traditional assemblage throughout the entirety of the Bronze Age, and this is seen in both domestic and funerary contexts (Maniscalco 1999: 187).
Castelluccian ware has more subdivisions/regional styles than Stentinello Ware, and within these different styles there is a difference between grave and domestic pottery, the domestic pieces being more elaborately decorated and larger in size (Holloway 2000: 21). Unfortunately, while the black on red decoration serves as a diagnostic for the Castelluccian culture, there is a shortage of stratigraphic or chronometric evidences to support precise sub-periods (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 111). Although the claim has been made linking Castelluccian ware to Early Helladic and Middle Helladic matt-painted wares, there are few chronologically relevant affinities. Instead, Castelluccian pottery appears to be firmly rooted in the traditions of the local Late Copper Age (Leighton 1999: 141).
Concerning tools, there was no sudden change in either the quality or quantity of metal working during the Early Bronze Age, but the range of products increased (Leighton 1999: 142), thus it can be said that technologically, the Early Bronze Age is characterized by metalworking as the stone industry waned until its disappearance by the Middle Bronze Age (Brea 1957: 102). Short copper daggers from Monta Racello and Santa Febronia could have been formed locally, but axes likely served as long-distance trade items (Leighton 1999: 142). Interestingly, at the Lipari acropolis, a sandstone mold for casting bronze items was discovered (Brea 1957: 106), and still others were found at Ustica, Cannatello, Panarea, Filicudi, and Salina. It is possible that trade involving Sicilian resources such as pumice and amber resulted in the import of raw metals to be used at these sites (Alberti 2013a: 2502).
After its economic decadence in the Copper Age, the Aeolian islands saw a rise in the Capo Graziano culture (Brea 1957: 99), as seen at several villages in the islands, the key of which is La Montagnola Del Capo Graziano on Filicudi. The cultures represented by oval huts in concentrations of five or six (Wijngaarden 2002: 207), floors generally sunk below surface level, and superstructures of perishable material. A rather large Capo Graziano building, measuring 18 m on its long axis, was discovered at Lipari, and this building had its own enclosure wall (Holloway 2000: 28). The Capo Graziano material culture distinguished itself from either mainland Italy or Sicily (Wijngaarden 2002: 206) and appears to be quite limited to its own region (Cantisani 2020: 18).
The Capo Graziano culture, throughout the Aeolian islands, at a minimum created Aegean inroads into Sicily which grew stronger in later periods. Late Helladic I and II pottery is seen at Capo Graziano until the sixteenth century, when the villagers relocated to more defensible positions. Interestingly, around this time at the coastal sites of Messina and Naxos in northeastern Sicily, inhumation burials inside large pithoi began (Holloway 2000: 29). This type of inhumation is similar to those found at Olympia in Greece (Brea 1957: 107).
It should be noted that the Capo Graziano culture is split into two periods which correspond to the two Castellucian cultural periods (Alberti 2013a: 2504). Concerning ceramics, one element of Capo Graziano pottery, a special type of ribbon handle, is found contemporaneously at sites on the north coast of Sicily representing the Rodi-Tindari-Vallelunga (RTV) culture, which was contemporary with the Castelluccio 2 culture (Holloway 2000: 29).
Pottery of Capo Graziano is monochrome and gray with decorations of simplistic dots or wavy lines. In fact, all of the forms are quite simplistic ceramic types (Holloway 2000: 28). The Capo Graziano settlement of Filo Braccio on the island of Filicudi contained pottery with zigzags and boats, designs associated with the sea. Other sites in the Aeolian islands contained motifs comparable to each other (Martinelli 2017: 1).
Additionally, Capo Graziano vases have been discovered in Western Sicily in Chamber tombs located around Palermo which have been termed the Conca d’Oro Culture, though this is not a consistent culture (Holloway 2000: 29). Other pottery within the tombs continue the Copper Age (Cultraro 2014: 142) styles of the San Cono-Piano Notaro-Grotta Zubbia incised decorations but with a different forms. The most carefully decorated pieces, which are of the Moarda style, are Castelluccian designs incised into the ceramics, rather than painted on (Holloway 2000: 29).
Artificially constructed defensive structures were discovered at several Early Bronze Age sites, including Thapsos, Petraro di Melilli, and Monte Grande (Copat, Costa, and Piccione 2017: 110). A nearly 200 m curved wall made of blocks with six semicircular buttresses at equal distances was found at Thapsos (Cantisani 2020: 110), and a similar wall as seen at Naxos (Leighton 1999: 119-20). A single but similar buttress was discovered at the settlement of Mursia on the small island of Pantelleria; the buttress appears to have been a later addition in order to reinforce the entry point (Cantisani 2020: 111). The existence of enclosure walls between the third and second millennium B.C. is seen throughout the Mediterranean (Leighton 1999: 119-20).
Though all buildings have been destroyed by erosion, the Castelluccian defensive walls at Timpa Dieri-Petraro di Melilli near Syracuse were much farther inland when compared to coastal sites. While the proximity to the coast may account for the defenses, it is possible that the walls may had been built to defend against an occasional raid or other social concerns (Cantisani 2020: 112-13). Interestingly, these walls are significant in that they are replicas of the fortifications belonging to the later third millennium at Lerna in Greece, Syros in the Aegean, and los Millares in Spain. Thus, showing the travel/speed of military architecture (Holloway 2000: 23).
Culture: Religion and Inequality
Although materially distinct from the Copper Age and the Middle Bronze Age (Cantisani 2020: 14), both the political and societal structures in Early Bronze Age Sicily were irregular and continually evolving (Leighton 1999: 146). The Castelluccian societies only came to fruition after the collapse of the Maltese Temple Culture known as Tarxien, which occurred around 3,000 B.C. (Holloway 2000: 22), the Tarxien temples being contemporary with the Sicilian Late Copper Age.
Interestingly, the Tarxien Temple Culture domestic architecture does not match Sicilian domestic architecture, the prior being built with mud brick rather than stone and wood (Cantisani 2020: 102). While Malta continued close ties with Sicily for a millennium before the beginning stages of the temple culture development, by around 4000 B.C., a divergence began, and with the construction of the Maltese temples, around 3600-3200 B.C., Maltese society was quite distinct (Malone and Stoddart 2013: 67). In fact, during the Tarxien Temple period, despite evidence of trade with Sicily and Lipari, the island of Malta was quite insular (Bonanno 2008: 32), their beliefs, art, and structures were unique (Barratt et al. 2020: 17). Except for possible contemporary similarities in Sicilian monumental funerary architecture to the final stages of the Tarxien Temple period, there is little cultural diffusion at this time (Bonanno 2008: 33). The Tarxien Temple Culture gave way to the Tarxien Cemetery Phase which corresponds to the Sicilian EB1 (Bonanno 1993: 36), and there seems to have been a radical change between these two phases, possibly due to immigration as the latter contains pottery reminiscent of Capo Graziano ware (Leighton 1999: 114).
While Sicily does not have monumental temples like on Malta, the sites of Monte Grande and La Muculufa have been identified as settlements where ceremonial activities occurred within the village (Cultraro 2004: 201). Six buildings were discovered at Muculufa, and there was one external kitchen. Of note is a sanctuary which contained no covered buildings but rather artificial terraces, one of which was preserved with Casalucian material well preserved in front of the retaining wall. It is in this stratum that very many fires burned over the years, containing fragments of firewood showing intense heat over which sheep have been cooked, the carcasses being slaughtered elsewhere. Surrounding the ritual hearth were three vessels and a great abundance of pottery sherds/fragments, which showed a uniqueness when compared to village settlement fragments (Holloway 2000: 24-25).
As noted above, competition for better votive offerings may have lead to more elaborate ceramic styles (Holloway 2000: 27-28). Pottery at the sanctuary was richly decorated and individual, possibly showing the work of individual craftsman. Having two times the pottery at the sanctuary, it is assumed that each was used as an offering to the gods and intended to be left there (Holloway 2000: 24-25), especially since exotic and fine pottery, in conjunction with other aspects such as ash and animal bones, appear to be evidence of ritual activities (Cultraro 2004: 202). It has been suggested that these two sites express the importance of ritual communal feasting, and that the elaborately decorated ceramics found in the aforementioned possible monumental Castelluccian tombs suggest that the feasting rituals carried over to funerary practices (Doonan 2001: 165). Interestingly, no type of altar has been found at either site, but the apparent lack of cooking vessels at Monte Grande, except for andirons as clay supports, suggests that the meat was cooked over the clay hearths, and the increase of fine table ceramics suggests an increasing frequency of ritual meals (Cultraro 2004: 207). Thus, the sanctuary at La Muculufa is thought to have been a seat of religious belief common throughout the valley utilized by multiple villages (Holloway 2000: 25), those this is controversial (Cantisani 2020: 305).
Castelluccian religion is possibly represented in the phallus-like objects, the fictile horns, present in the region as early as the Copper Age (Brea 1957: 93) and found throughout the Castelluccian culture. They could be related to the aspect of household gods, but also a type of protective charm, as is already seen in Castelluccian tomb portals (Holloway 2000: 24). Fictile horns are quite common in the Early Bronze Age domestic contexts and in later periods (Leighton 1999: 141), and they are usually interpreted as fertility symbols (Lukesh 2009: 148). Some fictile horns at Muculufa contain schematized arms or a pebble inserted into the tip of the horn. At Monte Grande, an object generally accepted to be a model of a hut contains four thin, terra-cotta sides, two of which may have schematized arms much like the individual figurines at Muculufa. At Monte San Giuliano, twenty-two less schematic figurines have been discovered. Three of these contain identifiably male or female sexual organs, but the remaining are either uncertain or possibly represent children, especially due to their smaller size and lack of breasts. The sexual and age differences point toward human representation rather than deific (Leighton 1999: 141). Of course, on a practical level, the ‘horn’ could be a handle and the base used for pressing soft objects (Leighton 1999: 108).
A rather interesting example of a long-distance link to several outside regions comes from one of these sanctuary sites, Muculufa, in the form of a bossed bone plaque, twenty of which are found in Sicily in both burial and domestic contexts (Leighton 1999: 144). These non-utilitarian plaques are found in tombs and settlement contexts widely distributed across Castelluccian territory, but there are also examples found at Malta, southern Italy, Greece, and Troy, all of which dated to the late third millennium (Holloway 2000: 26–27). These bone plaques appear to represent a multi directional exchange system throughout the Early Bronze Age (Leighton 1999: 144).
Additional trade items were often non-utilitarian in purpose and acted as prestige items, such as Sicilian amber which has been found in southern Italy and even in the Peloponnesus (Crispino and Cultraro 2016: 211). Many of the long-distance exchange systems required sea travel and likely followed previously established routes. By EB2, these trade networks became more regular and brought continued contact with evolving hierarchical societies in the Aegean (Leighton 1999: 144).
The concept of prestige, that importance designated by the public to differing aspects of human affairs, is given to certain material goods which are in a limited supply either physically or socially (Mordvintseva 2020: 257). Aspects of manufactured prestige goods include both the technical complexity and the quality (Cardarelli 2015: 157), and these are items that generally do not belong to the regular assemblage of materials and in some way or fashion increase the prestige of individuals. As early as the Copper Age, kinship structures in broader Italian societies gave way to significant individuals within the community who stood out socially (Cardarelli 2015: 156), and this concept increased over time. The holders’ prestigious attributes are exemplified by the prestige goods, which can either found a hierarchy or reinforce it (Brun et al. 2010: 200).
While it is difficult to infer social inequality based on published grave goods (Cantisani 2020: 120), this does not discredit the prestigious nature of certain hard to obtain items with their insignia or value, whether utilitarian objects constructed from precious materials or non-utilitarian, exotic objects (Mordvintseva 2020: 258). While the inequalities of the Early Bronze Age in Sicily existed, and in fact the Castelluccian culture could not be described as a stable hierarchy (Cantisani 2020: 311), they do not compare to later inequalities, particularly during the Greek colonization period (Fitzjohn 2007: 215).
Elaborate External Influences: The Impact of the Aegean
Middle Bronze Age
The overall conditions of life in Middle Bronze Age Sicily and the Aeolian Islands were not very different from the preceding period (Brea 1957: 120), but although the Middle Bronze Age lasted only a short period of time, rather significant economic and social growth occurred partly due to external contacts, including craft specialization, social organization, and centralization of power, which continues into the Late Bronze Age (Leighton 1999: 147).
The date of 1500 B.C. makes a great approximate starting point for the Middle Bronze Age, but in Southern Sicily, the Early to Middle Bronze Age transition began before this. 14C dates at Madre Chiesa give a range of 1740-1462 cal. B.C. Meanwhile, in mainland Italy the Apennine assemblages date to around 1600-1300 B.C. The difference between the traditional chronology of a Sicilian Middle Bronze Age, 1400-1250 B.C., and the earlier date is that the traditional chronology is based solely on Late Helladic IIIA-B pottery at chamber tombs at Thapsos (Leighton 1999: 149).
The Sicilian Middle Bronze Age is characterized by two dominant cultures, those of Thapsos, in Sicily proper, and Punta Milazzese, in the Aeolian islands (Alberti 2013b: 630), and chronologically, these cultures stem from earlier cultures, specifically Capo Graziano, Rodì-Tindari-Vallelunga, and Castelluccian (Leighton 1999: 147-48). The Thapsos culture (see below for site specifics) is attested throughout Sicily, especially on the eastern and southern coasts where two key sites have emerged: Thapsos, in the east, and Cannatello, in the south (Tanasi 2010: 103). Once broken down into three phases corresponding to Late Helladic IIIA-IIIB1, covering the Italian chronology of Middle, Recent, and Final Bronze Ages (Tanasi 2010: 103), the Thapsos Cultural period has now been re-articulated and covers two phases that extend throughout the Middle Bronze Age (Tanasi 2020: 175). The site, itself, appears to include two occupational phases.
During the Middle Bronze Age in Sicily, the amount of total settlements declined while coastal settlements appeared, and the exchange of goods with eastern mariners became more common (Doonan 2001: 164). Trade networks, established as early as the Neolithic and expanded during the Early Bronze Age (Alberti 2008: 131), allowed for great quantities of different goods to move into Sicily. These include pottery, metals, and ornamental implements from regions around the Mediterranean, including Greece, Cyprus, and the Aegean, though some possibly only merely resembled forms from these regions (Leighton 1999: 147).
The Milazzese culture in the Aeolian islands, which shows a close relationship with that of the Thapsos culture (Wijngaarden 2002: 206), was a period of developing relationships with the Mycenaean civilization (Cazzella and Recchia 2013: 88), the rise of which in the region corresponds to the closing of the Castelluccian age in central and eastern Sicily (Holloway 2000: 30-31). This facies is seen at sites such as Punta Milazzese, Portella, Lipari, and at Capo Graziano (Alberti 2013a: 2505), and it was during this time that Mycenaean trade networks became influential in Sicily, as Sicily became a bridge between east and west (Leighton 1999: 147), and with such a vast empire, raw resources were required. As Mycenaean trade progressed, Sardinia became the source of copper and tin (Holloway 2000: 31), thus bringing eastern mariners necessarily to the shores of Sicily (Leighton 1999: 181).
Sites: Thapsos, Milazzese, and Related Sites
Sicilian sites during the 14th to 12th centuries can be divided into seven categories: 1) harbor sites that acted as trade emporia such a Thapsos, 2) seaside sites such as Syracuse and Naxos, 3) coastal plains sites, smaller settlements such as Cazzo Pantano often found near low lying promontories, 4) inland hilltop sites such as Mokarta, 5) cemeteries on hilltop or promontories such as Caltagirone and Pantalica, 6) small satellite settlements such as Rivetazza, and finally 7) caves such as Chiusazza (Leighton 1999: 150). Overall, there appear to be three observable patterns concerning outsider relationships. Inland sites in Sicily simply do not invest in defining the edges of their communities. Larger sites in the islands show a defensive impulse. Finally, Thapsos shows a third pattern, that of open access to outsiders likely due to the close economic relationship with them (Doonan 2001: 174).
The largest Middle Bronze Age site is Thapsos (D’Agata 2000: 62), with trace Early Bronze Age occupation (Wijngaarden 2002: 229). Occupying a low-lying promontory and connected to the mainland via an isthmus, the site provided a sheltered anchorage and beaching point (Leighton 1999: 151-52). At Thapsos, round or oval huts continued from the Early and into Middle Bronze Ages, but different from the continuity seen at other Early to Middle Bronze transition sites (Doonan 2001: 174). The Middle Bronze huts at Thapsos, being between six and eight meters in diameter, were generally larger than their Early Bronze Age predecessors (Holloway 2000: 32-33) and contain stone blocks fitted with smaller stones, showing evidence of plaster on both the walls and floor. Many of the simple entryways faced south, and clay hearths and cooking platforms were often located near the center of the hut (Leighton 1999: 151-52).
After around 1400 B.C., some simple village huts at Thapsos were joined by two, long rectangular structures measuring up to 20 m on a side, containing a paved courtyard, and containing paved pathways outside (Holloway 2000: 34-35). These Complexes, A and B, incorporated structures from the previous phase into their framework (Tanasi 2020: 179). One of the intricate rectangular set of rooms is known as Complex B. This U-shaped complex consists of five rooms around a central courtyard (D’Agata 2000: 62). Within Room C was local pottery which included an elaborately decorated basin on a high pedestal; the decoration included a high vertical handle with birds and bosses. West of the complex is Complex A, four conjoined rooms with an open cobbled yard with a well (Leighton 1999: 152).
These complexes are of a style that had never been seen before on Sicily (Holloway 2000: 34), and although unique to Sicily (Doonan 2001: 174), they may act as an example of adaptation of Aegean cultural models (D’Agata 2000: 63). The same concept of a rectangular building is found at Enkomi on Cyprus (Holloway 2000: 34-35) and may suggest comparisons to the eastern Mediterranean site of Ugarit (Syria) (Leighton 1999: 154). These elaborate complexes at Thapsos were most likely used as generic warehouses of sorts, though no imported pottery has been found within them (Holloway 2000: 34-35). Although these buildings were not closely dated, they likely date to around the 13th or 12th century B.C. (Leighton 1999: 152).
This fortified settlement is said to epitomize an inter-regional spirit, as evidenced by its Mycenaean, Cypriot, and Maltese goods (Iacono et al. 2021). Thus, Thapsos was undoubtedly a foreign trading port (Holloway 2000: 37). A second occupational phase which relates to the Late Bronze Age dates from the 12th century until the 9th (Wijngaarden 2002: 229)
It is somewhat commonly believed that both craft production and architecture at Thapsos was affected by Mycenaean contact, but this is difficult to predict (Leighton 1999: 152-53).
While no evidence of radical urban planning has been detected in the early phase of the Middle Bronze Age (Doonan 2001: 176), Thapsos did contain a structured urban plan, and similar urban plans also existed at Ustica and Panerea, suggesting an existing phenomenon in the region (Leighton 1999: 154). The complexity of the later urban plan, areas divided into blocks with roads, elaborately planned buildings, etc. (Tanasi 2010: 103), were perhaps adapted into the pre-existing settlement at Thapsos as was happening throughout the central and eastern Mediterranean during the 13th-12th c. B.C. (Leighton 1999: 154).
Thapsos may not have been the only urban site with a harbor on the eastern coast. Syracuse shows signs of Middle Bronze Age-Late Bronze Age occupation, but not much is known about the site during this period (Leighton 1999: 154). Additionally, a simpler rural settlement existed only a few miles away from Thapsos at the site of Madre Chiesa which consisted of six round huts and a large building. To the west, Scirinda had an initial Thapsos cultural phase with round huts and later rectangular additions. Mokarta, in the west, also contained round huts, though with double entry ways, which were succeeded by rectangular additions. At these sites, all known structures contained stone foundations with the exception of one hut at Erba Bianche that appears to have been founded by a series of thirty post holes (Leighton 1999: 154).
The second major settlement in the Middle Bronze Age relates to the Milazzese culture and is named after the site of the same name located on a promontory on the island of Panarea. The settlement belongs exclusively to the Middle Bronze Age (Brea 1957: 122), but shows continuity with the Capo Gratziano culture and a close relationship with peninsular Italy (Doonan 2001: 174).
Punta Milazzese is the best-preserved settlement in the Aeolian islands of this period, and it is estimated to have had over fifty structures on the small site (Doonan 2001: 175). Of these fifty structures, between twenty-two and twenty-four are considered huts. These oval huts, and their rectangular annexes, are made of local raw materials, including both drystone walls and wood or other perishable material for the ceiling (Alberti 2013c: 484). Individual huts contained courtyard space, but unlike at other sites, there were no paved streets or pathways between the huts (Doonan 2001: 177). The small size of the structures at Milazzese has called into question the validity of their functions, whether dwelling or utilitarian, and, at most, seven have residential characteristics (Żebrowska 2018: 15). One hypothesis is that those structures designated as huts cannot house more than two individuals, thus only a few nuclear families lived on the site (Alberti 2013c: 484).
Overlooking both the eastern and western horizons (Orlando, Tusa, and Gori 2018: 223), the site was highly defensible and could only be accessed via a land bridge as there were steep cliffs on each side (Doonan 2001: 176). At this time in the Middle Bronze Age, defense was a priority, and sites such as Thapsos and Cannatello on Sicily, Punta Milazzese on Panarea, Mursia on Pantelleria, and Faraglioni on Ustica, sites associated with trade and connectivity, found it necessary to create ways to protect themselves while continuing in trade (Dawson 2016: 331).
Technology: New Designs and New Materials
While many of the vessels within the Thapsos facies are commonly low fired and handmade, there were also high fired and wheel made assemblages in the east adapted from external sources, and these existed contemporaneously throughout the entirety of the Middle Bronze Age (Tanasi 2015: 21). In the west, pottery was rather plain and handmade with little evidence of the use of the fast wheel, and pedestal basins and chalice-type pottery were quite common (Leighton 1999: 176). The Thapsos facies made a notable leap in the technological quality of pottery production, including the preparation of clay, manufacture, decoration, and firing techniques (Tanasi 2015: 9). In fact, both the Thapsos and Milazzese cultures contained many new types of pottery, and they shared many features between them (Brea 1957: 120).
Thapsos ceramics dominated almost the entirety of the island of Sicily (Alberti 2013a: 2504). The indicators of Thapsos ceramics is in its production: handmade and course, rich in volcanic materials, and a gray or black-brown burnished surface. It is always incised, and it has geometric shapes and sometimes zoomorphic figures (Tanasi 2010: 103-4). These fish and other animals incised in the local tradition were likely inspired by Cypriot or Near Eastern bichrome ware (Leighton 1999: 174), and the geometric shapes are usually of simple linear designs (Holloway 2000: 32-33).
In a broad sense, domestic ceramics universally have three primary functions: storage, processing, and transfer. Storage includes the storing of both liquids (temporarily) and solids, processing includes cooking, and transfer includes serving, eating, and transport (Magrì and Cattani 2021: 68). Common shapes in Thapsos domestic ware include jars for storage, cups for dipping and drinking, and pedestaled basins for eating (Tanasi 2010: 104), and similarly, the most common forms in Thapsos cultural tombs include pedestaled basins and dipping and small storage vessels (D’Agata, 2000: 67). In other words, vessels for storage and transfer.
In fact, these pedestaled basins and dipping and storage vessels create a standard domestic set of the Thapsos repertoire (Maniscalco 1999: 188). Tomb 9 at Cozzo del Pantano at Syracuse contained an undisturbed burial and therefore presents an unblemished funerary assemblage that included pedestaled basins, small jars, a large storage jar, and a low dish that had not been seen before (Maniscalco 1999: 188-89), again representing two primary functions and all three forms of the standard Thapsos basic domestic pottery service, that is, vessels for transfer, eating and dipping/drinking, and storage.
The pedestaled open bowl continued from the earlier Castelluccian tradition, and in fact it was a part of the Castelluccian standard pottery service which included a pedestaled basin, for serving foods, and a pitcher, for dipping or drinking (Maniscalco 1999: 185-88). What made the Thapsos pottery different was the continued development of this pedestal bowl, sometimes even reaching enormous proportions (Holloway 2000: 32-33).
Interestingly, a high pedestaled basin in a domestic Thapsos cultural context contained an inverted rim, likely designed to reduce spillage, and an elaborate but non-functional bifurcate vertical handle underscoring the ceremonial aspect of the vessel (Maniscalco 1999: 188). Similar ceremonial vessels are found in most Thapsos tombs (Wijngaarden 2002: 233), as well as in tombs of the Thapsos facies, such as Tomb 9 of Cozzo del Pantano. Although morphologically undefinable, it is chronologically linked to Thapsos Tomb 2 which houses LH IIIB1 pottery (Alberti 2004: 115). As noted above, this vessel was likely used for liquids, thus adding an additional element to the basic domestic service, a container for liquids, replacing the storage vessel (Maniscalco 1999: 188).
The continued development of the pedestaled basin can be explained as dividing of the Castelluccian pedestal bowl into two versions during the Middle Bronze Age, a deep bowl used for liquids (with the vertical handle) and an open bowl used for solid food (Maniscalco 1999: 192). The vertical bifurcate handle is also seen on cups used for dipping, and therefore associates with liquids. These are seen in all phases of Thapsos cultural life, and they are represented at Thapsos cultural tombs, including Thapsos, Monte Racello, and Cozzo del Pantano (Alberti 2004: 158). It may be possible that the long vertical handle on the dipping cup rested on the bifurcate vertical handle on the pedestaled basin, thus continuing the basic domestic pottery service.
One explanation for this basic domestic assemblage being found in tombs involves funerary meal rituals in which the deep pedestaled basin with a bifurcate vertical handle held liquid, the cup was used for dipping, and the pedestaled bowl held solid food (Maniscalco 1999: 189). This ritual was apparently performed by the relatives of the deceased who symbolically partook in the meal. These vessels are used for the common consumption of the food, and then they are placed in the center of the tomb along with the remaining food (Tanasi 2010: 104). This standard assemblage is also found at Monte Balchino, where a fourth vessel, a cooking pot, is added to symbolically cook the meal. Interestingly, the four vessels at Monte Balchino showed no signs of actual use (Maniscalco 1999: 189).
Although typologically linked to the Thapsos cultural period, a second culture termed Milazzese, after the site of Punta Milazzese, is found throughout the Aeolian islands and in the north-eastern region of Sicily (Alberti 2013a: 2504). The Milazzese pottery style shows a close relationship to both the Thapsos facies and to Campania on the Italian mainland (Doonan 2001: 174), and the ceramic repertoire was circulated around the region (Wijngaarden 2002: 225).
Parts of the basic domestic assemblage, pedestaled basins, cups, and pitchers, were found inside huts at Milazzese sites, while the front, open courtyards often contained hearths and cooking stands used in daily life (Doonan 2001: 181). Both local and non-local fine ware are found, including vessels of transfer associated with consumption (Alberti 2013c: 487). Additionally, a variant of the ceremonial pedestaled basin with a vertical handle is found within the Milazzese pottery assemblage and recurs throughout the Aeolian domestic contexts (Alberti 2004: 105).
Aeolian sites such as Punta Milazzese and Lipari show a greater emphasis on storage areas. The collection and storage of rainwater likely lead to this peculiarity (Doonan 2001: 180). These storage vessels ranged in size, large or small, and sometimes may have been used in other functions (Alberti 2013c: 487). Storage vessels are often found within the side, closed courtyard of huts. The front, open courtyards often contained hearths and cooking stands used in daily life (Doonan 2001: 181).
Mycenaean pottery has been found around the Mediterranean (Holloway 2000: 31), and the Aeolian islands, and the Milazzese culture, played an important role in bridging Sicily with Italy (Tanasi 2020: 179) and with the Aegean (Alberti 2013c: 484). Although superior to local pottery, imports from the Aegean or Italy never replaced local ware. Instead, certain features and types were adapted (Leighton 1999: 172-74), and even with such large amounts of imported pottery, Mycenaean, Cypriot, and Maltese imports only form a fraction of the ceramics found in the tombs at Thapsos (Wijngaarden 2002: 235). Sicilian pottery maintained its distinctive style (Leighton 1999: 176).
In Sicily, Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery (Tanasi 2010: 103) is found primarily at coastal sites around Syracuse. A rather large sample is found at Thapsos, which exhibits its importance as a site of foreign exchange, and sites such as Thapsos, Cannatello, and Syracuse likely distributed the ceramics inland (Leighton 1999: 170-71).
Analysis of the clay used on Mycenaean vessels in Italy has determined that some were actually local imitations, thus negating them as trade items. At a Milena tomb in Sicily, an Amphora with correlations to Late Helladic III B-C has been identified as local, but a krater in another tomb at the site with similarities to Late Helladic III A:2–III B was determined to have been an import (Leighton 1999: 172). It can be said that both the presence of these imports and contact with foreign potters triggered the experimenting of local potters resulting in different imitation production districts (Tanasi, et al 2019: 399). Imitation ware became more common at inland sites (Leighton 1999: 172), and these derivatives encompass a great variety of shapes, including shapes not seen within imported wares themselves (Tanasi 2020: 180).
At the end of the Middle Bronze Age, major Milazzese cultural settlements show evidence of destruction (Tanasi 2020: 179) and, with the exception of the Lipari acropolis, were never rebuilt (Cardarelli 2015: 189-90). Eastern coastal sites on mainland Sicily saw the same fate, and interestingly, Thapsos facies pottery is found inland at Pantalica, the eponymous site of the Late Bronze Age, possibly being explained as a population transfer away from the dangerous coast (Alberti 2004: 152).
Culture: Trade and Cultural Change
As seen above, the Middle Bronze Age was a time of trade and exchange, including material goods and cultural ideals (Holloway 2000: 38). Mycenaean contacts ultimately stimulated economic growth in the region while pushing an emerging proto-urban environment (Leighton 1999: 147).
Maritime trade over long distances in the Mediterranean occurred seasonally between April and October, and the shape and features of Bronze Age ships meant that their routes would have been at the mercy of the winds and currents, thus determining certain months to leave and certain months for return (Leighton 1999: 180). Many of these long distance networks consisted of multiple and often complex short distance networks with various indigenous communities participating (Knapp, Russell, and van Dommelen 2021: 93), thus to speak of a Mycenaean colonization of Sicily misses the mark. While there were strong relations between the Mycenaeans and Sicily, Sicilian settlements continued to follow their own agenda and create their own values (Leighton 1999: 183-84).
The island of Sicily would have been much more than an important way point for merchant ships. Instead, individual settlements entangled themselves with the ever expanding trade networks (Knapp, Russell, and van Dommelen 2021: 91). For those passing through the straight of Messina, the eastern coast of Sicily was necessarily approached, and sites such as Thapsos created desirable ports-of-call where Sicilian goods could be exchanged for outside goods (Leighton 1999: 181). In the south, Cannatello became similar for the southern route to Sardinia, especially with its easy access to alum, rock salt, and sulfur based materials (Knapp, Russell, and van Dommelen 2021: 88).
One aspect of a cultural change within Sicily triggered by Aegean contact is the increase of metallurgy (Tanasi 2020: 184). Aegean-type swords are discovered, along with bronze basins, bronze blades, and similar pieces (Holloway 2000: 32), and as noted above, imitations were eventually created. Many Mycenaean-styled prestige items are discovered in tombs, including necklaces, combs, and gold or faience jewelry. Additionally, large bronze cauldrons testify to Cypriot influence, and bronze swords are thought to be types of hybrids of two different Mycenaean weapons (Tanasi 2010: 104). The Middle Bronze Age in Sicily saw an increased production of and broader range of type of metal-working, and this includes technological advances such as items of a higher tin content, sheets of bronze, and even two pieces of iron from a Thapsos tomb (Leighton 1999: 176). It can be suggested that these advances are due to cultural contact with more specialized artisans (Tanasi 2009: 52).
While prestige weapons, likely for display, are found at places like Thapsos and Caltagirone, practical weapons such as the short sword and dagger of the Thapsos-Pertosa group were widely distributed throughout Sicily and Southern Italy. These traditional weapons were locally crafted without need of external influences (Leighton 1999: 176-78).
The desire for prestige items grew as contact with the outside world continued. Far away origins and long transport likely increased the value of these goods, stimulating a need for a production of imitations of these exotic items (Wijngaarden 2002: 27), as well as exotic pottery (D’Agata 2000: 79. By having the standards of life raised, local craftsman adopted outside techniques in order to meet the requirements of the local consumer resulting in the high quality assemblages discovered in wealthy tombs (Leighton 1999: 181-82) ultimately leading to a proto-urban environment or a chiefdom (Leighton 1999: 147).
In discussing a chiefdom, the existence of storage is also important, and this is understood by the presence of large storage vessels. As noted above, the Milazzese facies is well known for its emphasis on storage (Doonan 2001: 180), and more than half of imported wares in Thapsos tombs are storage types (Wijngaarden 2002: 233). Storage vessels are evidence of complex organization in two ways: they house provisions for larger communities with individuals such as craftsman and elites who are not engaged in food production and therefore must be supported, and they house surplus provisions for trade (Leighton 1999: 182-3).
The limited examples of Late Helladic III C pottery at Thapsos show a decline in Aegean contact, possibly ceasing by around 1050 B.C. (Leighton 1999: 149). The Sicilian break with the Aegean seems rather abrupt (Holloway 2000: 37). Sites on the eastern coast, like Thapsos, become abandoned, and Cannatello enters a third phase without evidence of Aegean contact (Tanasi 2020: 188). The loss of contact with the Aegean at the collapse of Mycenaean trade network led to social changes. The local elites of the Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age system could no longer sustain their power, and new political systems emerged outside of the old system. It seems that chiefdoms do not always become early states (Leighton 1999: 189-90).
The end result of the Mycenaean collapse and threats from the sea, and within, was the founding of safe havens under the protection of Sicilian elites, a concept started during Aegean contact. Though still quite rudimentary, this model lasted longer in Sicily than in Greece (Holloway 2000: 38).
Late Bronze Age
Throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, Sicily and her immediate neighbors enjoyed a life of relative prosperity, but by the end of these, that had changed (Brea 1957: 136). In the later phases of the Middle Bronze Age, the broader Mediterranean had begun to fragment as a result of the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system, shattering the complex trade networks between east and west (Caso 2020: 58). With the loss of these trade networks, larger Milazzese island sites were destroyed, and many Thapsos cultural sites were abandoned. During the collapse of the Thapsos-Milazzese culture, a population transfer occurred where survivors of the destruction and abandonment of eastern Sicilian sites moved inland to safety (Alberti 2004: 152). The result of this was a restructuring of former models into three distinct groups in the Late Bronze Age: direct derivatives of the Thapsos-Milazzese culture, the Mokarta-Pantalica facies, and the Italian Ausonian culture in and around the Aeolian islands (Sevara et al. 2020: 687-88).
With the decline of Aegean influence around 1200 B.C., effective relative dating with the external world becomes difficult (Leighton 1999: 187), but the date range for Late Bronze Age Sicily can be comfortably placed at 1200 B.C. to 900 B.C. (Sevara et al. 2020: 687), with the Early Iron Age being traditionally dated from 900 B.C. to 734 B.C., the founding of the first Greek colonies in eastern Sicily (Leighton 1999: 187).
The transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age is clearer in the Aegean than in Sicily. In Sicily, this transition was once associated with the beginnings of large sites found inland, like Pantalica, but the transition from a Thapsos culture to that of Pantalica North becomes complicated with evidence of overlap. The contemporaneous nature of these two sites during both the 13th and 12th centuries is now considered to be highly likely, but inland sites such as Pantalica did expand in the Late Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, as the Thapsos facies collapsed (Leighton 1999: 149-50).
Sites: Pantalica, Mokarta, and the Move Inland
With the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system in the east, and the abandonment of eastern coastal Sicilian sites, there followed a purposeful move to inland, mountaintop settlements for defense (Tanasi 2009: 58). Several sites during the Late Bronze Age share this need for defense, including terrain-specific defenses, such as mountaintops, islands, etc., and manmade defenses, such as stone or wood enclosures (Kolb and Balco 2021: 282), and these are found throughout Sicily.
Two key sites in Sicily at this time are the village of Mokarta in the west and the necropolis of Pantalica in the east (Tanasi 2009: 52), though other sites also add to an understanding of the Late Bronze Age in Sicily (Tanasi 2020: 188).
Pantalica was a well fortified settlement on a limestone promontory with impassable canyons on three sides; the site is located in the hills of the Hyblaean plateau (Leighton 1999: 155). Possibly more than 5,000 tombs from Pantalica have been discovered (Leighton 2011: 449), most of which had been looted. The finds from the tombs provided the basis for the three-stage Pantalica culture (Leighton 2011: 448). The first phase of this culture is termed Pantalica North, after the North Cemetery, and dates from ca. 1250 B.C. to 1000 B.C., which is followed by the Pantalica II phase, also called Cassibile, from ca. 1000 B.C. to 850 B.C. The final phase at Pantalica is termed Pantalica South, after the South Cemetery, and dates from ca. 850 B.C. to 730 B.C. during the Early Iron Age (Leighton 2016: 125), and therefore will not be discussed here.
Little is known about the prehistoric residential quarters at Pantalica, but due to evidence of inequalities in both dwellings and burials and the existence of prestige goods, Pantalica is thought to be a stratified society or what can be called a complex chiefdom (Iacono et al. 2021). Additionally, trade goods and local specialist craft production lends toward this concept (Leighton 2011: 448). The site declined and was sparsely populated after the eighth century B.C.
Non-funerary remains are problematic as they are either unexcavated, poorly documented, or imprecisely dated (Leighton 2011: 449). Perhaps the most intriguing element on the site is the so-called anaktoron. This large, rectangular structure has been interpreted as the seat of the local ruler (Iacono et al. 2021), and at least some have argued that the design mimics Aegean standards (Tanasi 2009: 53). Unfortunately, clear stratigraphic evidence is lacking, and the so-called megalithic masonry that characterizes only a single room is of little help (Leighton 2011: 450). Another Late Bronze possibility is that the peculiar masonry and sometimes large, multiple rooms are reminiscent of the Complexes A and B of Middle Bronze Age Thapsos and therefore an example of Mycenaean architecture (Tanasi 2020: 192). Nearby terrace walls are not easily dated, either, since the associated pottery was mixed in type but dominated by Late Antiquity roof tiles. Scattered finds of prehistoric pottery do exist in the general vicinity, including some Middle Bronze Age sherds, which suggests prehistoric settlement on this part of the site, where tombs are absent (Leighton 2011: 450).
Little exploration has occurred in Late Bronze Age western Sicily, with a few exceptions, one of which is Mokarta (Sevara et al. 2020: 687), the second major site of the Late Bronze Age in Sicily and represented by a village and associated necropolises. Like Pantalica, Mokarta is a mountaintop settlement likely chosen for its defensive capabilities, especially since it is protected on all sides by inaccessible chasms (Nicoletti and Tusa 2012: 905).
The site of Mokarta dates from around 1250 B.C. to 950 B.C. (Kolb et al. 2001: 188), at which point the settlement was destroyed (Cooney and Kolb 2007: 212). Mokarta stands in contrast to Pantalica in that it highlights a time of diversification in cultural ideals between east and west (Tanasi 2009: 53). In fact, the architectural features at Mokarta consisted of Middle Bronze Age traits, including round huts, settlement layout, and use of the chamber tomb (Kolb et al. 2001: 194), though without postholes as seen in many Middle Bronze Age huts (Tusa and Nicoletti 2000: 967). It has been suggested that this was a conscious attempt to protect the traditional way of life at a time of political upheaval (Kolb et al. 2001: 194), but that is uncertain.
Overall, Mokarta appears to be an assemblage of three small hamlets, with an approximate 850 inhabitants (Kolb and Balco 2021: 286). Although recent work at the site has uncovered Copper Age structures, most of the structures and material date to the Late Bronze Age (Sevara et al. 2020: 688). The site itself consists of several groups of round huts gathered around open spaces. Although only two sections at Mokarta (sections A and D) can be said to be completely investigated with all of their spaces included, the sections show a sense of social structure (Tusa 2015: 35). These huts often contain later quadrangular additions that were used contemporaneously with the huts. This combination of round huts with quadrangular additions can be seen at both Erba Bianche and Canatello in the Late Bronze Age (Kolb and Balco 2021: 283) and are interpreted as outbuildings or possibly workshops (Sevara et al. 2020: 688).
The single-room huts at Mokarta are characterized by a double-entryway with a sort of antechamber (Sevara et al. 2020: 688). This rather narrow antechamber is bounded by two concentric, curvilinear walls on both sides and on the same axis as those of the main hut walls (Nicoletti and Tusa 2012: 907) forming a pincer or crab-claw shape. Interestingly, little evidence of these crab-claw entryways exist outside of Mokarta, with only possible exceptions at Poggioreale, Cannatello, and Sabucina (Sevara et al. 2020: 688).
Each of the round huts is made up of a floor of compacted clay mixed with marl and a central hearth. One hut contained a second, but irregular room with a cobbled floor that was accessible from both the outside and inside the main hut. Having been set ablaze, remains of ogival dome roofs, likely with a hole in the center, have been found in the destruction layers. These included chopped straw or grasses coated in a mixture held together by a wooden frame (Nicoletti and Tusa 2012: 908). Ground penetrating radar work at the site has revealed thirty-seven huts, in addition to the originally excavated twelve, spread over approximately 5ha (Sevara 2020: 694).
Related to the site, sixty-one single-chambered tombs, in addition to a reused Late Copper Age tomb, have been discovered at Mokarta. These chamber tombs were cut into the limestone below the settlement in three large cemeteries (Kolb et al. 2001: 193). These tombs held between one and six inhumations, but also vessel assemblages suggesting funerary rituals (Kolb and Balco 2021: 290). Of interest, it has been suggested that the lack of differential goods in burials and the layout of the site itself do not support an elite class at the settlement. Additionally, a lack of roads, beyond trails, and insignificant ceramic production does not suggest Mokarta as a part of a regional trade network (Cooney and kola 2007: 212).
Technology: Differences Between East and West
With possibly over 5,000 tombs discovered at Pantalica (Leighton 2011: 449), and with a lack of residential material (Iacono et al. 2021), the necropolises form a crucial part of our understanding in eastern Sicily. In use from around 1100 B.C. to 700 B.C. (Leighton 2016: 127), the tombs form major groupings of five: Filiporto, Northwest, North, Cavetta, and South (Leighton 2011: 449-50).
Sicilian pottery maintained its distinctive style, even with external influences. In the west, pottery was rather plain and handmade — there is little evidence of the use of the fast wheel — and pedestal bowls and chalice-type pottery was quite common. In the east, locally made pottery continue to be representative of the majority of assemblages, and vessels such as the monumental pedestal basin, which was found in both domestic and funerary contexts, likely had a special significance (Leighton 1999: 176). Specifically, an elaborate, large pedestal basin from Pantalica had vertical ribbing on the stem and basin and may have been reminiscent of metal forms due to its red finish, something also found in Mycenaean monochrome pottery (Leighton 1999: 174).
Notably, social differences in Pantalica tombs are represented by an uneven distribution of wealth (Leighton 2016: 141), and these included Aegean imitations as new contacts were made after the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system as evidenced by ceramics related to Late Helladic IIIC or the Protogeometric period (Tanasi 2009: 53). Although introduced as early as the Early Bronze Age, the potter’s wheel was used more frequently by the Late Bronze Age (Kolb and Balco 2021: 289). In fact, both the introduction of the fast wheel and its use in the production of the North Pantalica specific pottery is considered to be adapted from Mycenaean sources (Tanasi 2009: 52). It was during this cultural facies that a trend toward an integration of Aegean and local ceramic traditions becomes more clearly defined (Knapp and Dommelen 2015: 75).
Overall, there appears to be a continuity in both form and possibly function of ritual ceramics, features of bronze weapons, and in funerary architecture between the former Thapsos-Milazzese facies and that of Pantalica North (Sestieri 2015: 90). Thus the Pantalica North pottery service includes similar types to those previously mentioned, specifically, a deep, globular basin on a high pedestal or open bowl on a high pedestal, a pitcher, an amphora, and a patera (Maniscalco 1999: 189). The core in the assemblage at Sant’Angelo Muxaro is the high pedestaled basin, which is quite common throughout the central and western regions of the island and considered a diagnostic of the Pantalica North facies (Caso 2020: 84). Similar arrangements can be seen at the necropolises of Caltagirone and Dessueri. The basic service at Caltagirone is made up of the pedestaled piece along with a hydria and a pitcher, while at Dessueri, there appears to be a variety of pitchers, amphorae, and olle (Maniscalco 1999: 189).
Characteristic of this pottery is a red slip (Caso 2020: 70), sometimes referred to as Red Lustrous, and this red slipped pottery is considered the guide-type of Pantalica North ceramics (Tanasi 2009: 52). Not only is it recognized by this red, lustrous slip, but the Pantalica North assemblage also contains new shapes similar to those in the eastern Mediterranean, though absent of paint (Russell 2011: 73), specifically eastern Mediterranean or even Levantine Red Lustrous Wheel Made Ware seen in both the Aegean and in Cyprus at this time, suggesting a possible new level of external contact in Sicily (Tanasi 2004: 341).
In addition to the use of the fast wheel and red burnished decoration, further evidence of Aegean-Levantine imitation is seen in a number of ceramic types seen for the first time. In all, there are twenty-two ceramic forms recognized in the Pantalica North facies (Russell 2011: 73), six of which are the Aegean-Levantine imitation-types mentioned above, including the askos and strainer spouted jug (Tanasi 2020: 188). Additionally, a number of bronze artifacts have been discovered at the Late Bronze Age tombs of Caltagirone and Pantalica (Leighton 1999: 174), including Italian-type fibulae, mirrors, knives, razors, and weapons. Gold rings, also, which are considered Mycenaean imitations (Sestieri 2015: 91).
It has been suggested that a kind of peaceful migration occurred from the Italian mainland, separating eastern and western Sicily in both material culture and customs (Tanasi 2009: 53). During this period, the Pantalica II, or Cassibile, phase, dating from 1000 B.C. and 850 B.C. (Holloway 2000: 39-40), painted pottery is seen at Sicilian sites in the east influenced by the Italian mainland or possibly the Aeolian Islands. This distinctive assemblage found in both domestic and funerary contexts has a rather plumed motif (Russell 2011: 73). This Plumed Ware replaces the Red Lustrous ware of Pantalica North, but is based on the forms of the Pantalica North and Thapsos phases (Holloway 2000: 40) with some entirely new forms being present, including a plate on a high pedestal that some suggest may be a sort of lamp used during a funerary ritual (Brea 1957: 154).
Just as the previous periods, the basic pottery service of the Pantalica II period consist of a high pedestaled vessel, specifically an open basin here, and a pitcher or patera, as seen in tombs at Cassibile (Maniscalco 1999: 190). Interestingly, one of the major changes in the east during this period is the presence of inhumations or cremations inside ceramic vessels (Russell 2011: 244), in which cases the basic pottery service consists of one pitcher and bronze instruments, a change from the millennium old tradition that would carry over into the Iron Age (Maniscalco 1999: 190).
The key Late Bronze Age site in the west is Mokarta, which had control over a rather large, flat territory of fertile land and possibly one of the primary roads roads in the west (Tusa 2015: 21), though some argue against the existence of roads close enough to have placed Mokarta in this important role (Cooney and kola 2007: 212). Burial architecture and grave goods at Mokarta follow Pantalica typologies (Tusa 2015: 10).
Interestingly, although some relate the rectilinear and curvilinear combination of architecture at Mokarta to an Aegean influence, evidence of eastern Mediterranean ceramic imports is altogether missing (Russell 2011: 132-33). Instead, Mokarta appears to be strikingly traditional, representing a version of the Pantalica North facies (Sestieri 2015: 91), including the Pantalica North red slip and burnished surface (Caso 2020: 133). Local or western peculiarities within the Mokarta repertoire did exist, for instance not being made on the fast wheel (Tusa and Nicoletti 2000: 968). Also unlike Pantalica, red stralucido decoration, a type of partial smoothing, is almost entirely missing, as is also the askos with a button on top and the spouted jug with a sieve (Mannino and Spatafora 1995: 48).
Within the necropolises, the high pedestaled basin is the most numerous, while the high pedestaled plate is also quite numerous. Also numerous within the tombs were basins/cooking pots and olle, basins/cooking pots nearly being as plentiful as the high pedestaled basins. Of course, other vessels, while minimally reflected, existed, including pitchers, cups, jugs, and more (Mannino and Spatafora 1995: 92). Thus, the basic pottery service of a high pedestaled vessel and basin or olle is well represented. Interestingly, in nearly every tomb, the basic pottery set consisted of either a high pedestaled basin or high pedestaled plate, the one almost always being represented if the other is missing. This is also true of the basins/cooking pots and olle, the one being present if the other is not (Mannino and Spatafora 1995: 120). Concerning ceramics found within a domestic context, another chapter will discuss this in length.
Culture: The Results of Aegean Hierarchical Systems
It is of particular interest that the social systems that make up both Pantalica and Mokarta are markedly different. In the former, closer in proximity and culture to the previous Thapsos site and facies, a socially stratified settlement existed (Iacono et al. 2021). In the latter, no signs of elitism are yet present (Cooney and kola 2007: 212), though recent work has discovered two distinctively large circular huts (Severa et al. 2020: 697) that may change this position at a later date.
In a system where prestige items separate individuals (Brun et al. 2010: 200), one would expect to find varying sizes and complexities of residential structures and funeral rituals (Mordvintseva 2020: 260). By way of example, the Late Bronze Age tombs at Pantalica show quite unequal concentrations of goods; some tombs are more richly furnished than others (Leighton 1999: 182). In addition, a type of hierarchical pattern is suggested at smaller sites within 10 km of Pantalica, specifically Rivetazzo, Ferla, and Case Vecchie. Variations in grave goods at these sites suggest differentiation in both scale and status, though to a lesser degree than Pantalica. It is altogether possible that these sites acted as satellites of Pantilica on its periphery (Leighton 2016: 143).
The site of Pantalica and associated cultural sites continue the effect of Aegean contact, despite the break with the Aegean. Perhaps the best evidence for continued Aegean effects comes instead from the proposed semi-palatial governance of the site. This governance stems from the process of gathering a dispersed population into a concentrated center and is referred to in the classical world as synoicism. In order to gather together a dispersed people, strong leadership is required, and therefore these sites such as Pantalica, Cassible, Caltagirone, Monte Dessueri, and Monte Castellazzo, which existed on mountaintops showed evidence of centralized government. Of course, this was in contrast to settlements, farms, and sanctuaries before Aegean contact (Holloway 2000: 38).
Meanwhile, at Mokarta, these differences are not seen. Firstly, Mokarta is altogether missing an elite class (Cooney and kola 2007: 212). Secondly, though labeled a proto-urban settlement (Cooney and Kolb 2007: 215), some of the characteristics do not match as the concept of a proto-urban settlement is not well defined (Attema 2005: 121). By the simplest standards, Mokarta did have city-like characteristics and was therefore proto-urban (Ziółkowski 2005: 33), but what exactly are these characteristics?
Although proto-urban characteristics can differentiate from site to site (Kolb and Balco 2021: 285), the phrase seems vaguely to denote a large area (Leighton 2016: 140) loosely organized (Cooney and Kolb 2007: 215) with a characteristic dwelling layout (Kolb et al. 2001: 194). At the same time, others have listed proto-urban settlements as houses arranged in blocks with street grids and specific public areas (Tanasi 2020; 185). These last characteristics are aspects that exist at Pantalica but not Mokarta, though there is a seemingly arranged layout in housing groups (Nicoletti and Tusa 2012: 912).
At its core, a proto-urban settlement appears to be first, sites of similar size strategically located for economic potential or defense, second, sites that contain a clear separation between the living and the dead, third, sites that correlate growth with the abandonment of smaller sites, and fourth, sites that have uninterrupted continuity between the site and later great cities (Ziółkowski 2005: 33). To the first three, Mokarta is strategically located on a hilltop plateau, contains three clearly defined cemeteries, and grew at a time when Middle Bronze Age sites were being abandoned. The fourth characteristic cannot be met as the settlement was destroyed before it could continue to grow.
Key to the meaning appears to be the third listed aspect above, an aggregation of inhabitants (Tusa and Nicoletti 2000: 965), and we can add to this a large settlement with a low density and a lack of centralized institutions (Quntar, Khalidi, and Ur 2011: 8), though this last part seems to contradict other aspects noted above. Interestingly, besides Thapsos in the Middle Bronze Age, no Middle to Late Bronze Age Sicilian sites appear to contain all of the characteristics of a proto-urban settlement (Russel 2011: 83).
By these standards, Mokarta was therefore both semi-egalitarian and possibly proto-urban (Cooney and Kolb 2007: 215). Additionally, craft specialization, as a minor feature of a proto-urban settlement (Quntar, Khalidi, and Ur 2011: 9), is found at the site. Specifically, a bronze mold was recovered within a domestic context (Russell 2011: 141). There is also evidence of craft specialization in the excavated areas of the site, including hut specific occupations like pottery production and weaving (Singleton 2016: 6).
While the east was recreating Aegean and other external links, Mokarta continued an indigenous tradition (Cooney and Kolb 2007: 216). This is not to say that Mokarta was somehow a traditionalist society. In fact, evidence of external links abound, but just as Thapsos cultural sites retained their autonomy, so Mokarta retained its own. Influences from the outside possibly included Iberia (Tanasi 2004: 341), the Aeolian islands (Russell 2011: 140-41), and imitated Mycenaean items (Tanasi 2009: 53), but the inhabitants of Mokarta made these influences their own in a standard case of hybridization of outside influence. In the end, Mokarta simply existed the best they could.
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