Dining with the dead: new discoveries in early Byzantine Sicily

Tuesday 15 May 2012  18.00

 

Dining with the dead: new discoveries in early Byzantine Sicily

 

Professor R. J. A. Wilson (University of British Columbia)

 

This talk will describe the results of the University of British Columbia’s archaeological excavations in Sicily between 2008 and 2010. The site was at Punta Secca (RG), known to millions of Italians as the home of TV cop, Salvo Montalbano; it lies right on the south coast of Sicily. A late Roman and early Byzantine village. was partly excavated here in the 1960s and 1970s by Paola Pelagatti, Honorary Fellow of the BSR, and identified by her as the Kaukana of the ancient sources, where Belisarius set sail for the conquest of Africa in 533 AD. The aim of the new excavation was to focus on one building, a house, and examine in detail its building phases, its function, and the commercial contacts that its inhabitants enjoyed with other parts of Sicily – and indeed the wider Mediterranean world. While substantial progress was made on all these questions, the biggest surprise was the discovery of a tomb placed in what was probably the yard of the house in the second quarter of the seventh century AD, and of evidence for associated feasting in honour of the deceased. Who was inside the tomb, and why did that person deserve this level of respect? What evidence was there for feasts, and what did they eat? Was it a pagan or a Christian burial? And what was the tomb doing here, in a domestic setting, rather than in the village cemetery, or indeed, if the deceased was Christian, in or near the settlement’s church? These and other intriguing questions will be addressed in the talk, and the discovery set in the context of what else is known about such practices in late Roman and early Byzantine funerary culture.

UBC excavations in progress at Punta Secca, Sicily June 2010