Exploring the Archaeology of Regime Change

A five-year Research Project by the Universities of York, Rome Tor Vergata and Salento

Cessate d'uccidere i morti,

Non gridate più, non gridate

Se li volete ancora udire,

Se sperate di non perire.

Hanno l'impercettibile sussurro,

Non fanno più rumore

Del crescere dell'erba,

Lieta dove non passa l'uomo.

—Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970)

About the project

The Project

The Departments of Archaeology at York and Rome 2 (Tor Vergata) began a joint research project in 2014 investigating the Byzantine-Arabic-Norman- Swabian transition (sixth to thirteenth centuries AD) in Sicily, with special focus on changes in social structure, agriculture and trade. Assemblages from previous excavations, Survey in four parts of the island and new investigations at Castronovo di Sicilia provide our data.

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The Team

The project is directed by Alessandra Molinari (Rome) and Martin Carver (York) with the collaboration of Girolamo Fiorentino (Salento) and the support of Stefano Vassallo of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali di Palermo.

We are grateful to the Mayor, Commune and people of Castronovo for their warm and valued support.

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693600


The title of the Project is The archaeology of Regime Change: Sicily in Transition abbreviated to the acronym SICTRANSIT. The ERC action number is 693600.


The project's purpose is to explore the changes of demography, agricultural production and trade of Sicily through five successive regimes.

These are:

Byzantine—Greek speaking Christian imperial power based at Constantinople (Byzantium, now Istanbul), active in Sicily 6-8th century with a headquarters at Syracuse Aghlabid—Arabic speaking Islamic North African power of the Abbasid (Sunni) confederation based at Baghdad in Iraq, gaining control of Sicily in the 9th century and making its headquarters at Palermo

Kalbid—Arabic speaking Islamic North African Fatimid (Shi'ite) power based at Cairo in Egypt, exercising control over Sicily in the 10-11th century from a principal base at Palermo.

Norman—Latin/French speaking Christian power from Northern Europe exercising control over Sicily and southern Italy 11th to 12th century from a capital at Palermo (Roger II).

Swabian—Latin/German speaking Christian power from Germany exercising control over Sicily and much of Italy in 12th-13th century with its Sicilian base at Palermo (Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II).

Sources and Method

The archaeological data sources are:

  1. Assemblages from previous excavations
  2. Investigations at Castronovo di Sicilia, focussing on the sites of Monte Kassar (7/8th century Byzantine stronghold), Colle San Vitale (possible 9-11th century Arab then Norman citadel), Casale San Pietro (Byzantine then Arab agricultural centre), Castronovo town (Arab, Norman, Swabian and extant town.
  3. Landscape and paleoecological survey in the vicinity of Castronovo, Palermo and Piazza Armerina/Sofiana

Figure 1: Our sources. 1. Agrigento (5th-7th) 2. Castronovo, Monte Kassar (7th-9th), San Vitale (9th-11th) 3. Castronovo, San Pietro (6th-13th) 4. Catania, Chiesa di Sant'Agata (8th) 5. Contrada Colmitella (7th-13th) 6. Contrada Sant'Agata (5th-6th) 7. Entella (11th-13th) 8. Mazara del Vallo (10th-14th) 9. Palermo, Castello San Pietro (9th-10th) 10. Monte Maranfusa (12th-13th) 11. Palermo Town (9th-13th) 12. Piazza Armerina (10th-12th) Rocchicela de Mineo (9th) Segesta/Calatabarbaro (12th-13th) 15. Segesta (13th) San Vito Lo Capo (12th-13th) 17. Sofiana (7th-9th)

The method is to investigate the experience of the people on the ground using settlement forms and patterns, pottery, animal bone, human bone and paleoecology.

The line of argument (FIG 2) is that data collected from our sources (coins, seals, pottery, plant remains, faunal remains and human remains from cemeteries and settlements) will be analysed using scientific procedures (thin section, organic residues, stable isotopes, aDNA) to reveal the character of peoples, farming, diet, industry and trade and the way these changed between the sixth and thirteenth centuries.

Figure 2: Overall structure of research

Samples to be analysed are as follows:

  1. ceramics and other artefacts at Rome (Tor Vergata)
  2. human bone, animal bone and organic residues at York (Bioarch)
  3. botanical remains at Salento (Lecce)


Our timetable is shown in Fig 3.

Two seasons of Evaluation were carried out in 2014, and 2015 and the Project was designed in 2014-2015. The implementation stage of the project begins on 1 Aug 2016 and will run for five years. The fieldwork season is (currently) the month of September in years 1-4.

Figure 3: Timetable

The team

The team is deployed as follows:

At York: Martin Carver (PI), Ol Craig (Organic residue analysis and co-ordination), Jane Thomas-Oates (organic residue analysis), Michelle Alexander (stable isotope analysis), Camilla Speller (aDNA analysis), Veronica Aniceti (animal remains), Malin Holst (human remains), Helen Goodchild (geophysics), Neil Gevaux (digital media), Madeleine Hummler (publication).

At Rome: Alessandra Molinari (Co-director of Research, ceramics), Vivien Prigent (coins and seals), Emanuele Vaccaro (survey), Paola Orrechioni (sample management), Claudio Mangiaracina (ceramics). At Lecce: Girolamo Fiorentino (palaoecology), Milena Primavera (plant remains)For contacts see DIRECTORY below; other staff will be added when appointed.

We have an advisory panel who help to frame programmes and interpret results: Stefano Vassalo (Soprintendenza dei Beni Culturali, Palermo), Lucia Arcifa (Professor of Archaeology at Catania), Annliese Nef, Université de Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne, Chris Wickham (Professor of History, University of Oxford), Eduardo Manzano (Centro de Ciencas Humanas y Sociales, Madrid), Giuseppe Barbera (University of Palermo).

Administration. Each University (York, Rome TV, Salento) has a separate contract with ERC. The co-ordinating manager is Jo Tozer (York).










Lucia Arcifa


Guiseppe Barbera


Eduardo Manzano


Annliese Nef


Stefano Vassallo


Chris Wickham



Martin Carver (York)


Alessandra Molinari (Rome)


Adminsitrative Support

Jo Tozer

Co-ordinating manager


Ol Craig (BioArCh)

Organic residue analysis

Michelle Alexander (BioArCh)

Stable isotope analysis

Camilla Speller (BioArCh)

aDNA analysis

Jane Thomas-Oates

Analytical Chemistry

Malin Holst

Human remains

Veronica Aniceti

Animal Bone

Helen Goodchild


Madeleine Hummler


Jasmine Lundy


Léa Drieu


Aurore Monnereau

Alice Ughi

(Stable Isotopes)


Vivien Prigent

Coins and seals

Paola Orrechioni


Francesca Colangeli

Glass and Metal

Antonino Meo



Girolamo Fiorentino


Milena Primavera

Plant Remains

Public Engagement

In addition to 22 public lectures given by the PI and co-director (see below), a public event was held on 16 June 2018 which formed part of the University of York's "Festival of Ideas". It was called A Taste of Ancient Sicily, and its theme was food as a source of history.

The display occupied a quadrangle in King's Manor which was full of families from 10am until 2pm. The BioArch scientists entertained members of the public in a "Science Room" where they showed how their research was discovering what food was eaten in Sicily between the 5th and 13th century and the preferences of different cultures.

It is planned to mount similar events during the next season at Castronovo for school children and to accompany the end-of-dig presentation to the citizens.

Visitors were given a pre-identified character and invited to use the results of analyses to find out who they were. There was an exhibition by our artist-in residence, a specially made film and a ticketed lecture in marquee attended by 170.

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Festival of Ideas 2018
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Festival of Ideas 2018
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Festival of Ideas 2018
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Festival of Ideas 2018

Public Lectures

Sept 2014 Castronovo (MC+AM)

Dic. 2014 Vitoria (Espana) (AM)

Feb 2015 York Castronovo project (MC)

May 2015 Palermo Castronovo project (AM)

Sept 2015 Castronovo (MC+AM)

May 2016 Palermo Press conf. (MC+AM)

Jun 2016 BM Sicily (MC)

Jul 2016 York sictransit launch

Sept Castronovo (MC+AM)

Oct 2016 York sictransit (MC)

Dec 2016 Palermo sictransit (AM)

Dec 2016 UCL Accordia sictransit (MC + AM)

Mar 2017 Oxford conflict (MC)

Jul 2017 Oxford Normans (AM)

Sept 2017 Castronovo (MC, AM, Orecchioni, Meo, Canzonieri)

Nov 2017 Cambridge sictransit (MC)

Nov 2017 Rome TV Amphorae conference (AM, MC, OC, LD, PO, AMeo, Viva Sacco, Claudio Capelli)

Dec 2017 Brown University USA Resilience (AM)

Dec 2017 Harvard University USA SicTransit (AM)

Dec 2017 York Normans (MC)

Dec 2017 Newcastle sictransit (MC)

Dec 2017 Hull sictransit (MC)

Feb 2018 UCL sictransit Islamic (MC + AM)

Feb 2018 Rome Crypta Balbi (AM)

March 2018 Siena Dipartimento di Archeologia (AM)

March 2018 Institut für Archäologien, Innsbruck (AM)

Apr 2018 Lecce sictransit (MC)

May 2018 Reading sictransit (MC)

Jun 2018 York Festival of Ideas (MC and BioArCh)

Jun 2018 Palermo archaeozoology (MC, Aniceti)

Jul 2018 Leeds IMC sictransit (MC)

Sep 2018 Barcelona EAA (MC, Fiorentino, Primavera, Lundy, Ughi)

Sep 2018 Castronovo end of dig (AM, MC)

Oct 2018 York Research Celebration (MC)

Oct 2018 London Italian Cultural Institute (MC)

Nov 2018 Palermo In Memoriam Fabiola Ardizzone (AM)

2018 season leaflet

For the end of dig in 2018 we prepared a publicity leaflet for the Commune of Castronovo di Sicilia celebrating the archaeology (click to download).

Publications and Communication


2015 Molinari, Alessandra. "Islamisation" and the Rural World: Sicily and al-Andalus. What kind of archaeology? in Sauro Gelichi and Richard Hodges (eds) New Directions in Early Medieval European Archaeology: Spain and Italy compared. Essays for Riccardo Francovich (Brepols), 187-220.

2016 Molinari, Alessandra. Fortified and Unfortified Settlements in Byzantine and Islamic Sicily: 6th to 11th centuries. In Neil Christie and Hajnalka Herold (eds) Fortified Settlements in Early Medieval Europe. Defended Communities of the 8th to 10th century (Oxford: Oxbow), 320-332.

2016 Carver, Martin and Molinari, Alessandra. Sicily in Transition Research Project. Investigations at Castrononovo di Sicilia. Results and Prospects, 2015 FASTI ONLINE http://www.fastionline.org/docs/FOLDER-it-2016-352.pdf

2017 Carver, Martin and Molinari, Alessandra. Ricerche 2016 a Castronovo di Sicilia. Siciliy in Transition (Progetto ERC advance grant 2016-693600) Notizario Archeologico Soprintendenza Palermo, n.23/2017 https://sicilia.academia.edu/NotiziarioArcheologicoSoprintendenzaPalermo

2018 Carver, Martin, Molinari, Alessandra, Aniceti, Veronica, Colangeli, Francesca, Giannini, Nicoletta, Giovannini, Fabio, Hummler, Madeleine, Mangiaracina, Caludio F, Meo, Antonino and Orecchioni, Paola. Sicily in Transition. Interim report of investigations at Castronovo di Sicilia 2016 FASTI ONLINE http://www.fastionline.org/docs/FOLDER-it-2018-412.pdf

In Preparation/in Press

2016 Carver, Martin. Public works and Private lives: Sicily in transition between four regimes (British Museum)?

2017 Meo, Antonino and Paola Orecchioni. Proceedings of the Rome Amphorae Conference?

2017 Molinari, Alessandra. Ardizzone Festschrift

2018 Carver, Martin. The Norman impact in Sicily and in England compared



3 February Islamic Archaeology Day Institute of Archaeology UCL—Get tickets at Eventbrite

16 March Research Seminar at King's Manor York—16:15, Lecture Theatre K133

June Palermo archaeozoology

16 June Festival of Ideas Sictransit—Public Event King's Manor 10:00-14:00

July Leeds IMC sictransit

20 Aug—30 Sep FIELDWORK SEASON 2018

Recent Presentations

ROME 16-18 Nov 2017 Amphorae trade 8-12th century

JENA 18-21 Sep 2018 8th International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology

ATHENS Oct 2018 12th Conference on Medieval and Modern Mediterranean Ceramics



10 March Oxford Student Conference Sicily in Transition (Martin)

11 March Oxford Conference on Movement and Conflict

1 July Oxford Conference on Normans in the South (Alessandra)

5 Oct Castronovo di Sicilia Presentation to the town (Alessandra and Martin)

6 Nov Cambridge University Sicily in Transition (Martin)

16 Nov French School in Rome, amphora conference. Sictrans ORA programme (Ol Craig, Lea Drieu)

8 Dec University of York Norman workshop. Normans in Sicily (Martin)

14 Dec University of Newcastle on Tyne. Sictransit (Martin)

20 Dec University of Hull. Sictransit (Martin)


10 March Oxford Student Conference Sicily in Transition (Martin)

11 March Oxford Conference on Movement and Conflict

1 July Oxford Conference on Normans in the South (Alessandra)

5 Oct Castronovo di Sicilia Presentation to the town (Alessandra and Martin)

6 Nov Cambridge University Sicily in Transition (Martin)

16 Nov French School in Rome, amphora conference. Sictrans ORA programme (Ol Craig, Lea Drieu)

8 Dec University of York Norman workshop. Normans in Sicily (Martin)

14 Dec University of Newcastle on Tyne. Sictransit (Martin)

20 Dec University of Hull. Sictransit (Martin)


25 June British Museum Conference on Sicily Culture and Conquest

12 May Palermo Press Conference

28 August Castronovo

22 September Castronovo


The project website is sicilyintransition.org, which connects to the home websites of the participating institutions; Twitter feed is @sicarch; and the Facebook page is sicilyintransition.

The overall plan for Public impact and research impact is shown in Fig 4.


Click an image to start the slideshow


Check back to find links to press articles as they become available.

I want to participate

Sictransit welcomes interest from experienced and inexperienced volunteers willing to contribute hands-on participation in our field season. The work involves picking, shovelling, trowelling, survey, surface collection, pot washing and handling finds and a certificate of attendance is given.

The season takes place at Castronovo di Sicilia in September each year, and board (5 days a week) and lodging are provided. However the project is unable to meet the costs of your travel to and from Castronovo. The nearest airport is Palermo and the nearest train station is Cammerata/San Giovanni Gemini.

The 2018 season will run from 20 August to 30 September.

If you would like to participate please email , giving an outline of your interest and any previous experience and I'll put you on the waiting list. I'll make a selection from the list in February or March and notify you all.

Contact us

You can get in touch via the following link.

If you require a certain person, please mention their name in your communication.