Settlement dynamics and site hierarchies in western Sicily from fourth to seventh c. AD: interpretative challenges in the Contessa Entellina Survey

Antonino Facella

Abstract


The Contessa Entellina survey is an intensive and systematic archaeological survey carried out in western Sicily, on an area extending over 136.4 km2, out of which more than 114 km2 were physically covered. The observation of settlement trends from the fourth to seventh centuries shows, on first glance, a noticeable drop in the number of sites from the third to fourth centuries, a new rise in the fifth century and a dramatic fall around the end of the century, followed by a period of stability or slow decrease throughout the sixth and seventh centuries. A more detailed analysis reveals, on the other hand, a much higher density of fifth century diagnostic artefacts (per site and per settled hectare), when compared with the previous and the two following centuries. The fifth century is therefore much more “visible” on the ground, and this may have contributed to the higher identification of fifth century sites.
The massive presence of fifth century artefacts may not be exclusively due to a population increase: economic and socio-cultural factors most likely also came into play, distorting the resulting settlement picture. More precisely, a possible higher tendency towards a grain monoculture may have caused a massive import of African foodstuffs (attested by amphorae) between the late fourth and the middle fifth century, and peculiar dietary customs could explain the all-pervading diffusion of African Red Slip Ware cups belonging to the form Hayes 80-81. Similarly, if we take into consideration also less diagnostic artefacts such as roof tiles, we find that the fall in the number of sites between the end of the fifth and the sixth-seventh centuries may have been less drastic than it appears, and that it was followed by attempts to work out new settlement strategies, showing a fairly good resilience.

Keywords


Settlement Trends, Late Antiquity, Sicily, Archaeological Survey, Rural Population

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5463/lac.2014.6

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Copyright (c) 2016 Antonino Facella

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LAC 2014 proceedings - ISBN 978-90-825296-0-9 - is an open access initiative supported by the University Library, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.