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Archaeology of food in ancient Sicily and Malta


Davide Tanasi (P.I.)

Robert Tykot, Ioannis Gelis, Enrico Ciliberto, Enrico Greco, Aurelien Tafani (CO-P.I.)

The opportunity to reconstruct ancient culinary and dietary habits of ancient civilizations through the application of laboratory analyses has drastically changed the approach to the study of the archaeological record. Food habits are constructed in accordance with a broad range of cultural, ideological, and interpersonal factors such as status, religion, gender, age, wealth, and more. In this perspective food is not just biologically necessary but also it becomes a cognitively prominent material culture that plays an active role in constructing and negotiating social distinctions. Food practices construct and negotiate identity on numerous levels. At the broadest scale, specific foods and cuisines may be used as markers of particular cultures. Finally it is an integral component of individual identities as people use it to present themselves to the world, using food habits to construct their identities. The aim of this research project is to shed light for the first time on culinary and dietary habits of the Prehistoric communities of Sicily and Malta, from Prehistory to Late Antiquity through laboratory analysis in order to provide an alternative approach to the study of human mobility, social inequalities and assertion of minorities’ identity in those ancient societies. From the discovery of the oldest wine in European History at Copper Age site of Monte Kronio (Sciacca) to the oldest olive oil in Italian history at the Early Bronze Age site of Castelluccio (Noto), from the Greek Archaic cemetery of Scala Greca at Siracusa to the Roman catacombs of St. Lucy at Siracusa, the researches focuses on application of an array of analytical techniques such as 1H-1H NMR 2D-TOCSY, ATR FT-IR, SEM-EDX, GC-MS and LC-MS on organic residues of tableware from domestic and funerary contexts and stable isotopes analysis on skeletal remains.

  1. Tanasi D. 2018, 1H NMR, 1H-1H 2D TOCSY and GC-MS analyses for the identification of olive oil on Early Bronze Age pottery from Castelluccio (Noto, Italy), Analytical Methods 10, 2757, pp. 1-8, (co-authored with E. Greco, R. Ebna Noor, S. Feola, V. Kumar, A. Crispino, I. Gelis). Link
  2. Tanasi D. 2017, 1H-1H NMR 2D-TOCSY, ATR FT-IR and SEM-EDX for the identification of organic residues on Sicilian prehistoric pottery, Microchemical Journal 135, pp. 140–147 (co-authored with E. Greco, V. Di Tullio, D. Capitani, D. Gullì, E. Ciliberto). Link
  3. Tanasi D. 2017, Stable isotope analysis of the dietary habits of a Greek community in Archaic Syracuse (Sicily): a pilot study, STAR: Science & Technology of Archaeological Research 3.2, pp. 1-13. ISSN 2054-8923 (co-authored with R. H. Tykot, A. Vianello, S. Hassam). Link

Foodways in Revolution: From Rome to Rūm


Michael Decker (P.I.)

The Roman Empire knitted together a huge area from Egypt to Britain, the Crimea to Morocco. This vast area, home to a diversity of environments and peoples, witnessed incredible changes in food production and diet during the Roman Imperial Period of the first century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. Following the establishment of the capital of Constantinople in the fourth century, the food culture and productive hinterlands shifted decisively to the eastern Mediterranean and benefitted from Levantine and Persian knowledge, plants and traditions. The Foodways in Revolution: From Rome to Rūm research track uses an interdisciplinary approach from historical texts, archaeological data, and scientific methods to explore the great shifts in plants, food supply, and diet that continually evolved from the Roman imperial period to the innovations and development of farming and food under the Islamic caliphates of the Middle Ages from Iraq to Spain.

  1. M. J.  Decker 2013, The End of the Holy Land Wine Trade, Strata: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 31:103-16. Link
  2. M. J. Decker 2009, Tilling the Hateful Earth: Agricultural Production and Trade in the Late Antique East. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Link
  3. M. J. Decker 2007, Water into Wine: Trade and Technology in Late Antiquity. In Technology in Transition: AD 300-650, edited by Luke Lavan, Enrico Zanini and Alexander Sarantis, 65-92. Leiden: Brill. Link