Discovery centre

Sicily is a beautiful fertile island attractive to peoples coming from south, west, north and west through the centuries. The most formative period was probably the first millennium AD when the island changed hands at least four times: they were ruled by Greek Christian Byzantines from Greece in the 7-8th century, by Sunni Muslims from the Levant in the 9th, by Shi’ite Muslins from North Africa in the 10-11th, by Latin Christian Norman knights from southern Italy in the 12th and by the Holy Roman Emperors from north Germany in the 13th.

In the faces of these changes in government, religion and wealth, the SICILY IN TRANSITION project (Sictransit) set out to discover what happened to the farmers, merchants and their families as one regime succeeded another.

These were people largely without history - so our investigation of their fate and fortune has depended on archaeology – the now-buried villages and cemeteries they left behind. These contain the traces and fragments of their pottery and glass, their food and farming, religious belief, liberty, mobility and slavery, their houses and graves and their skeletons – the evidence for their lives, their sickness or health, their poverty or wealth, their freedom or slavery, whether they were mobile or tied to their place of birth.

Our methods are digging (in the field), and the study of artefacts and the analytical sciences (in the lab) and our results were produced by two major excavations – in the seaside town of Mazara del Vallo* and the inland rural agricultural town of Castronovo di Sicilia*. We had first hand encounters with the population at 22 previously excavated cemeteries, examining samples from the skeletons of 213 individuals, provided through the good offices of Sicilian archaeologists. Here we used stable isotope analysis to determine their diet and mobility, aDNA to determine their ancestry and kinship and radiocarbon to determine their date (People and piety). Our excavations and earlier ones have produced a wealth of plant and animal remains, from which we can see how their availability changed through the centuries (Food and Farming). These centuries also saw a wild variation in prosperity, as imports and exports surged or dwindled, and the people of Sicily reached out to new markets and alliances, or huddled at home (Trade and Travel). In short, Sicily in Transition is not just one story but many and from them we have begun to see something of the resilient character of these creative people and the times they lived in.