The Monte Iato Project

Innsbruck's research on Monte Iato


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The Monte Iato

Since 2010 the Institute of Archaeologies of the University of Innsbruck is researching on the West Sicilian Monte Iato under the direction of Erich Kistler and Birgit Öhlinger and the patronage of the Zürich excavations of Ietas. The hill with its prominent western outcrop forms the southernmost offshoot of the Palermitan Mountains and rises 852 meters over the upper Belice Valley and the modern settlements San Guiseppe Iato and San Cipirello,located approximately 30 kilometres south-west of Palermo. The ancient settlement was located on the flat, over 40 hectare wide high-plateau and was limited by steep rock faces in the North and North-West.

In the course of illicit excavations in the 1960s, the city of IAITAS, already known through ancient literary sources and coin finds, was rediscovered. First scientific excavations started in 1971 by the Archaeological Institute of the University of Zurich under the direction of Prof. H. P. Isler und Prof. H. Bloesch and are continued up to this day. Since 2008 the Zürcher excavations have been under the direction of Prof. Christoph Reusser and the co-direction of Dr. Martin Mohr.



Settlement history


Settlement history at the site starts in the early first millennium BC, as some pottery finds indicate. From the 7th and latest from the 6th century BC onwards lively settlement activity can be documented and has partially been excavated. A settlement composed of small housings united in several compounds could be proven for the first half of the 6th century BC, whose inhabitants had hospitable contacts with Phoenicians and Greeks. During the third quarter of the 6th century an outstanding cult building was erected: the so-called “Aphrodite-Temple”. Further cult buildings dating to the second half of the 6th century and the early 5th century could be identified east of it. Together with the Aphrodite-Temple they mark a large-scale cult site, into which the late-archaic banqueting house, which had been erected shortly before 500 BC, was also integrated. However this banqueting house was ritually destroyed around 460 BC, accompanying the abandonment of the Aphrodite-Temple.

Little is known about the classical phase of the settlement. Fact is that the late-archaic house was reused, partially shortly after its ritual abandonment, and was rebuilt into a courtyard house at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. During this period the city was re-founded after the example of a Greek polis and was provided with a theatre, an agora and stoai within its centre and with magnificent peristyle houses in the surrounding living quarters. The beginning coin minting and also brick stamps deliver the city name of this period: IAITAS. Under Roman rule the city was renamed IETAS and the western quarters were entirely re-structured and equipped with shops, workshops and a new banqueting house west of the Aphrodite-Temple.

Materially scarcely attested is the settlement phase of the Byzantine period and during the Arabic and Normannic invasions. It is only under the rule of Hohenstaufen dynasty that the settlement on Monte Iato once more gained an extraordinary position. It was headquarters to Muhammed ibn-Abbad and the West-Sicilian emirate that had emerged in 1220 AD within the Arabo-Islamic population, who had fled the reign of Emperor Frederic II. into the mountains of western Sicily. After more than 10 years of besiegement the last Sicilian Saracens were forced to abandon Monte Iato in 1246 AD. The city was razed and the biggest share of the Muslim rebels was deported to Lucera in Apulia. Only a few settlers inhabited Monte Iato after the slighting and even they left the mountain by no later than 1270 AD due to economic regression and political isolation.



Innsbruck's research


By now Monte Iato, with its almost continuous, centuries-old stratigraphy, forms a firm cornerstone for the archaeological exploration of Sicily. This applies especially for its early phases during the 7th and until the 5th century BC, when its inhabitants came more and more into contact with Phoenicians and Greeks. It is exactly this period of contact and transfer with alien cultures which is the focal point of the research carried out by the University of Innsbruck: How have these contacts and transfer been utilised on Monte Iato to establish power structures on a local or even regional level? What role did religion play?

The area between the Aphrodite-Temple and the late-archaic house in the Westquarter of the later Hellenistic-Roman city constitutes the appropriate area of research. Here the forms of power and elite building and their interplay with the so-called “Große, griechische Kolonisation” led to important materialisations in the archaeological evidence. To process these expressive data samples it is necessary to develop specific strategies for a consumption-oriented social archaeology. Through analysis of assemblages of finds and the use of singular objects more information about ancient activity zones and causalities between the ‘local’ and the ‘colonial’, as well as between religion, redistribution, and power building, shall be gained. New approaches within the material culture studies are particularly ground-breaking here.

Material culture shapes the life of people, mediates between them and their environment, habitualises perception and activity patterns, and therefore objectifies cognitive processes. Things are consequently not passive, timeless containers of specific cultures or times gone by, but rather, besides their everyday-practical function, vehicles of values and identities which are able to change their meanings according to changes in their context of use. Their mundane as well as their extraordinary consumption leads to meaningful forms of materialisation of human coexistence. It is the challenge now to reveal these in the early layers on Monte Iato. They will allow for possible conclusions about locally and chronologically prevailing “registers of consumption”, that constituted consumptionscapes and therefore provide insight into situational value and power discourses “between Aphrodite-Temple and late-archaic house”.

For the investigation of these consumptionscapes a proper “archaeology of consumption” is necessary. It has to incorporate all scientific approaches necessary to reconstruct the act of consumption which led to the formation of a specific record as material residue of the consumptionscape. Apart from standardized methods of field-archaeological investigation, this includes archaeometric provenance and environment analyses, as well as archaeobotany, archaeozoology and chemical lab analyses of organic residues. Highest priority is laid upon the strategy for the preservation of evidence directly in the “field” to define the scale of and take into account all possible biases. Therefore the field-archaeological investigation not only has to be adjusted according to stratigraphic and structural criteria. It must also be a priority to question the possible association of finds with organic residues, enabling a combination of ceramicological analysis with the chemical analysis of the material.



The Homepage


This homepage is designed to allow every interested person to inform themselves about the results of Innsbrucks reseach on Monte Iato. Furthermore it is meant to make further, associated projects with their questions and results visible for an interested readership. The texts on this homepage are composed of the respective project proposals and refer to the persons and dates relevant at the date of the proposal.


The Iato Team of Innsbruck






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