School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Prehistoric Morgantina

Morgantina (Enna province, Sicily) is the location of a Final Bronze - Early Iron Age settlement (11th-8th centuries BC), represented by a series of dwellings on different parts of the Cittadella hill, which marks the eastern end of the Serra Orlando ridge, identified as the site of ancient Morgantina.

The later periods of occupation (6th - 3rd centuries BC) witnessed substantial urban development and expansion onto the adjacent Serra Orlando ridge, accompanied by changes in the design and layout of buildings.

The site illuminates various aspects of the transition from the late prehistoric (or protohistoric) to early historical periods in Sicily.

Prehistoric houses

Recent work provides an opportunity to assess the form, function and social context of houses in a part of Italy where funerary remains have tended to dominate discussion. The first excavations (1955-72) revealed several ‘long-houses’ and rock-cut chamber tombs, which have been published (Leighton 1993). The most complete building in trench 31 is notable for a series of large storage jars, an oven, hearths made of broken potsherds and cooking installations.

More recent excavations in trench 16W (1989-2004), revealed an unusually large dwelling (about 28 x 7m), assignable to the Final Bronze Age, and quite likely constructed in the 11th century BC, according to the calibrated 14C dates (Leighton 2011; 2012). It is characterized by a level rock-cut floor with a central row of post-holes and an internal wall cut in the limestone bedrock buttressed by courses of stone, preserving traces of clay wall plaster, with vertical slots for the insertion of upright timber posts and an adjacent bench. Among the finds are cooking stands (terracotta stoves), hearths, a rich assemblage of pottery (hand made and wheel made), items of metal (including evidence for iron and bronze working), chipped stone (obsidian, quartz, chert), ground stone (basaltic millstones), bone items and amber (identified as Baltic). Animal bones comprise cattle, sheep/goat, pig, red deer, fallow deer, hare, tortoise and dog. Samples of floral remains, shell and charcoal (oak) were also retrieved.

The Morgantina Archaeological Survey directed by Dr. Stephen M. Thompson identified considerable numbers of prehistoric and later sites in the surrounding territory (Thompson 1999; Leighton and Thompson, in Leighton 2012). The survey provided a 25% sample of a 150-km2 region, systematically explored with half-kilometre wide survey transects oriented to cross-cut the prevailing east-west strike of the local topography.

Related publications

  • Antonaccio, C. 1997. Urbanism at Archaic Morgantina. In Andersen, H.D., Horsnaes, H.W., Houby-Nielsen, S. and Rathje, A. (eds), Urbanization in the Mediterranean in the 9th to 6th centuries BC. Acta Hyperborea, 7: 167-93. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

  • Bell, M. 1988. Excavations at Morgantina, 1980-85, Preliminary Report XII, American Journal of Archaeology 92, 313-42.

  • Leighton, R. 1984. Mycenaean pottery at Morgantina. American Journal of Archaeology 88, 389-91 (NB: Contrary to some preliminary erroneous reports, no Mycenaean pottery has been found at the site!)

  • Leighton, R. 1989. Ground stone tools from Serra Orlando (Morgantina) and stone axe studies in Sicily and Southern Italy. (With contributions by J.E. Dixon and A.M. Duncan). Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 55, 135-59

  • Leighton, R. 1993. The protohistoric settlement on the Cittadella. Morgantina Studies Volume 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press

  • Leighton, R. 2011. La casa 16W del Bronzo Finale sulla Cittadella di Morgantina (Sicilia): aspetti strutturali, zone di attività e status sociale. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche, LXI, 197-214.

  • Leighton, R. 2012. Prehistoric Houses at Morgantina. Excavations on the Cittadella of Morgantina in Sicily, 1989-2004. Accordia Specialist Studies on Italy Vol.15. London, Accordia Research Institute.

  • Lyons, C. 1996. The Archaic cemeteries. Morgantina Studies Volume 5. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Thompson, S. 1999. A central Sicilian landscape: settlement and society in the territory of ancient Morgantina (5000 BC - AD 50). Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Virginia (Charlottesville). 

Scientific collaboration and participants (trench 16 West)

Dr Carla Antonaccio (Duke University); Dr Laszlo Bartosiewicz (University of Edinburgh); Prof. Malcolm Bell (University of Virginia, Charlottsville); Dr Marina Ciaraldi (Sheffield); Dr John E. Dixon (University of Edinburgh); Dr Pamela Fragnoli (Università di Modena); Dr Erika Gal (Hungarian Academy of Sciences); Prof Carl Heron (University of Bradford); Dr Sara Levi (Università di Modena); Dr Catriona Pickard (University of Edinburgh); Dr Susan Ramsay (Glasgow); Dr Stephen Thompson (Charlottesville, Virginia).

Institutional funding and support

  • Soprintendenza Beni Culturali ed Ambientali, Enna
  • British Academy (SG-41994)
  • The Moray Fund, University of Edinburgh
  • School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • Dept. of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

Dr Robert Leighton

Project Director

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