Rock-Shelter Research in Central Sicily

Article excerpt

Multi-period survey work in the Torcicoda valley of central Sicily over the past four years has recovered material (sites and scatters) from the Neolithic to late medieval (Giannitrapani & Pluciennik 1998). The Torcicoda flows from near the provincial capital of Enna at a height of c. 650 m asl to the Himera Meridionale river some 15 km to the southwest at a height of c. 250 m. The river and its tributaries pass through a variety of landscapes from high sandstone and limestone scarps and gorges, to undulating ploughed fields with valley fills and the remnants of terraces and older river channels overlying the clay substrate (FIGURE 1). It was chosen for survey because of the variety of landscapes within a small area, and the consequent possibilities of highly intensive survey investigating the differential survival of archaeological sites. This region, like much of the Mediterranean, has seen increasing destruction of archaeology especially since World War Two with the introduction of more intensive farming methods, notably the use of caterpillar tractors to carry out sometimes inappropriate deep ploughing (up to 1 m) on steep slopes. As in many other areas this has led to the fragmentation, downslope movement or total removal of topsoils and subsoils and archaeological deposits. Modern check dams erected to prevent run-off and soil erosion are already blocked or buried, and in places Eucalyptus trees have been planted in an effort to prevent the frequent landslips. Archaeologically it is thus crucial to understand the processes and factors involved in site survival and destruction and landscape transformation, whether cultural or geomorphological. To this end we are also working with Dr Jamie Woodward, of the University of Leeds, who is studying the geomorphology of the lower valley and the rockshelter sediments.


The only evidence of Neolithic occupation, little known in this area (Tusa 1992: 142-3), relates to a hearth found in section buried under 3 m of alluvium, with no associated material culture, but whose charcoal gives a date of 5690 [+ or -] 120 BP (Beta-134710), which calibrates to 4790-4330 cal BC at 2 [Sigma]. Other finds include several much disturbed scatters relating to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, two new extensive `indigenous' hill-top settlements, dating to the 7th and 6th centuries BC, with locally made imitations of Greek wares, and Roman sites. However, we have also become interested in the remains from the last two centuries -- a period which is little known in Italy from an archaeological point of view, despite a rich tradition of historical and folklore studies. These include eight watermills, of which the surviving structures date mainly to the 19th century; a series of stone-built mud-plastered houses inside three large ripari (rock-shelters) within a gorge; a few masserie (fortified farmhouses) which date back to late medieval or early modern times and were the centres of the large ex-feudal estates or latifondi; and occasional isolated structures of more recent date. In addition we have encountered the remains of pre- and post-Second World War attempts at land reform. An intensive programme of field-walking has recovered, along with prehistoric, protohistoric and classical material, much pottery of recent but uncertain date.

The project `Archaeology of the Torcicoda Valley' has just completed its fourth field season. Up to last year the focus was on intensive field-walking, but we have just completed a series of test excavations at an interesting locus of activity from at least Early Bronze Age to recent times. …