Mikael Bratell, SIR Fellow in Archaeology, April- June 2021
Michael Bratell, William Henry, Niklas Kärrman*
The Simeto Project conducts archaeological research in Coda Volpe in eastern Sicily, a rural district within the Metropolitan City of Catania. The purpose is to study archaeological remains: in order to improve the state of knowledge and protection status for the cultural heritage. To date, the project has resulted in two preliminary archaeological surveys in 2018 and 2020. The first survey is detailed in a master's thesis (Bratell 2020a) that, after close examination of previous research, geomorphology, and postcolonial aspects, concluded that Coda Volpe is part of a 'periphery' in eastern Sicily. The project aims to deepen the results of the previous work, while simultaneously render Coda Volpe's historical significance more visible. Catania's Superintendency for Cultural and Environmental Heritage has confirmed the project as promising, of scientific value, and issued a convenzione for continued archaeological research. The project has created good international networks that jointly contribute to the project's purpose and goals.
The project has developed from a collaboration between Bratell and Kärrman, in preparation for a possible doctoral thesis, while attending master's programs at Gothenburg University. The area under examination, the Simeto river delta, was chosen for its––in archaeological terms––'unmapped' status, as well as its perceived function as natural border and intersection between the khôrai of Katánē and Leontinoi (Catania and Lentini), both founded by chalcidian colonists in 729 BCE. A model was shaped following Kärrman's original interpretation that this 'border area', though understudied, also appeared suitable for human settlement: In this area, Sicily’s largest river, navigable throughout antiquity, exits the Plain of Catania, whose fertility is described by Strabo and Cicero. The Plain of Catania is bounded to the south by San Demetrio: a hilly ridge, strategically positioned for monitoring access to both the river and the floodplain. Via Pompeia, the Roman road along the east coast, built after the Second Punic War in 201 BCE––or possibly by Pompey the Great, while propraetor in Sicily in 82 BCE––is also thought to have passed this area, possibly dividing near San Demetrio, with one road moving south towards Neapolis (Syracuse), one inland across the Catania plain, and another road crossing the hilly ridge towards Leontinoi. Bratell suggested that a good place to start an investigation would be where the Roman road most probably divided. This turned the attention once more to the NE corner of San Demetrio, and especially the foothills facing the coast. While initially focused on the Greek and Roman age, it was evident that any historical period had received little previous study in the area.
The archaeological potential was thus inferred from the converging topographical features of the area: (a) the mouth of Simeto, (b) San Demetrio, and (c) the Plain of Catania. This interpretation gained further support after comparisons with other Archaic sites, the Simeto's movements, and the ancient topography and ancient coastline. Human habitation was in fact previously attested, if only by preliminary archaeological surveys with limited scope or by outdoor enthusiasts––lacking any established chronology or proper scientific investigation. Of particular significance in this regard are the presence of rock-cut chamber tombs, caves, grave niches––even Roman sarcophagi: establishing clear links to both Prehistoric, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and subsequent periods, while also pointing to the existence of unidentified settlements.
The survey is focused to Coda Volpe, an area that shares many features with Leontinoi (located ca. 10km to SE). The cave environments of Leontinoi have previously been excavated, demonstrating traces of cohabitation between the indigenous population and the Greek colonisers during the Archaic age. A dozen, or so, undocumented rock-cut environments are located on the NW section of San Demetrio, some of which correspond rather well to those of Leontinoi. Moreover, San Demetrio is considered by the project team to be part of a larger pattern of settlements and fortifications, put in place for management of movements along the river and across the flood plain. This interpretation, if correct, places even more emphasis on the necessity for the planned archaeological surveys in Coda Volpe.
In close collaboration with the Superintendency of Catania, Gothenburg and Catania Universities and ArchaeoTek Canada, the project will perform geophysical surveys, using Magnetometer, Ground penetrating radar (GPR), Structure from motion (SfM) and 3D photogrammetry. The 2021 survey includes two farmhouses a section of Collina Primosole, a small village on San Demetrio. The associated estates of the farmhouses, Masseria Primosole and Masseria Coda Volpe, contains rock-cut chamber tombs, caves and grave niches. Masseria Coda Volpe is located at ca. 1km distance from the site of a possible Greek necropolis. Masseria Primosole is surrounded by several undocumented rock-cut environments and its location at ca. 2km distance from the site of the discovery of Roman sarcophagi on the flood plain in direction NE. This is also worth noticing, in particular as there are some indications that Masseria Primosole is a former Mutatio, or Roman horse exchange station. In the area directly outside Collina Primosole, also be part of this survey, remnants of a wall and large quantities of pottery sherds were observed by the team in 2020. The survey is scheduled for May 17–31, September 1–22, 2021*.
(Please note that dates might be subjected to changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic).
Michael Bratell and Niklas Kärrman, April 2021.
Bratell, M. 2020a. The Site of an Unidentified Greek settlement? New Surveys in Coda Volpe district on Eastern Sicily. Master’s thesis submitted to Gothenburg University : https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/ 2077/65299
Bratell, M. 2020b. Platsen för en oidentifierad bosättning? GASTEN, Årg. HT20: 38–48.
Bratell, M. 2021a. The Site of an Unidentified Greek Settlement? New Surveys of a Periphery in Eastern Sicily [Poster]. Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology Conference, 'CASA 4 (2020/2021): Diversity in Archaeology', 17 January, The Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.
Bratell, M. 2021b (forthcoming). New Surveys of a Periphery in Eastern Sicily: Proper Alignment of Participating Institutions. 4 Conference papers by students on the course AE 2080, Conference publication at Gothenburg University: 1-10.