Thesis title: PALAEOENVIRONMENTAL RECONSTRUCTION OF A PHOENICIAN SITE: ARCHAEOBOTANY AT MOTYA (SICILY, ITALY)
The present PhD thesis concerns the archaeobotanical analysis of materials found in the
archaeological site of Motya, a small island (ca. 40 ha) located in the Stagnone di Marsala, a coastal
lagoon of western Sicily. Due to its strategic, harbored position in the middle of the Mediterranean
and the presence of fresh-water springs, the site was chosen by Phoenicians as a settlement in the
8th century BC until the siege of Motya in 397/6 BC.
The study of macro-remains, retrieved using bucket flotation, focused on two closed contexts: a
votive favissa found on the SW side of the Temple of Cappiddazzu (dedicated to
Melqart/Herakles), and a big disposal pit in Area D, both dating between the 8th and the 6th century
BC. In the latter context, palynological analyses were also performed. The study has yielded a
wide set of data which allows to reconstruct different aspects of the human-environment
interaction of Phoenicians at Motya.
Concerning the ritual sphere, animal sacrifices were likely accompanied by ceremonial meals. A
high concentration of officinal plants is probably correlated to the salvific aspects of Melqart at
Motya. Interesting is the find of numerous plants toxic to livestock, which suggests their use to
stun animals before sacrificing them. Remains referable to fruit (Vitis vinifera) and flower
offerings (Verbena officinalis), as well as ornamental (Cupressus cf. sempervirens) plants are also
From the secular perspective, human diet was comprised of cereals (mostly naked wheat), pulses
and fruits. Different-sized weeds (such as Lolium temulentum and Phalaris ssp.) and chaff remains,
referable to different stages of crop processing, indicate that crop processing was carried out daily
before consumption. This aspect is enriched by the find of cereal pollen, which suggests that
threshing (if not even cultivation) was carried on site.
Palynology also indicates an open environment, with little to no forest cover, characterized by
complex anthropogenic activities.
Anthracology suggests the presence of typical Mediterranean plant taxa. The presence of a stone
pine nut and of Pinus pinea/pinaster in the pollen rain is noteworthy, suggesting the local
occurrence of these Mediterranean pines outside their native distribution range. This represents the
first such find in the central Mediterranean. Fossil evidence also allows a comparison of Motya’s
past and present environment. The disappearance of Juniperus sp. and Erica arborea from the
present-day surroundings of the Marsala lagoon appears to be related to land-overexploitation,
aridification or on a combination of the two.
Finally, the role of Phoenicians in the spread and trade of grapevine was investigated through
morphometric analyses of the Vitis vinifera seeds retrieved from the disposal pit in Area D. These
were compared to waterlogged samples from the western Mediterranean sites of Nuraghe S’Urachi
(Sardinia, Italy) and Huelva (Spain), associated to Phoenician expansion and cultural interaction.
Archaeobotanical samples were compared to ten chosen cultivars from the “Vivaio Federico
Paulsen: Centro Regionale per la Conservazione della Biodiversit Agraria” in Marsala (western
Sicily), selected as modern reference material.
PCA analyses allowed an inter-site comparison, showing that samples from the three sites are
clearly distinguishable based on their morphology. This indicates the use of different varieties
which may be due to different factors. Statistical analyses of pip outlines show that archaeological
material from these sites is morphologically comparable to that of modern varieties, suggesting
that the archaeological finds may be described as “strongly domesticated”. Nonetheless, no
apparent correspondence to modern cultivars was found. This is partly related to the limited size
of the reference collection, to the centuries of history that have had an impact on grape diversity,
and to taphonomic factors.