Islamic Ceramics and Rural Economy in the Trapani Mountains during the 11th century


  • Viva Sacco École française de Rome
  • Veronica Testolini University of Sheffield
  • José Maria Martin Civantos University of Granada
  • Peter M. Day University of Sheffield



Islamic Sicily, Trapani, pottery technology, provenance


Located in the Trapani Mountains of North-West Sicily, the hilltop site of Pizzo Monaco has
formed the focus of systematic excavation and an innovative, integrated study of the total
ceramic assemblage, as part of the MEMOLA FP7 project. The date, provenance and production
technology of the varied types of pottery are investigated by macroscopic, morphological and
decorative analysis, in combination with petrography and scanning electron microscopy in order
to assess social, technological and economic ties of this rural site and its environs with the early
Islamic capital of Sicily at Palermo, the wider island and North Africa. Local production of cooking
vessels is compared with glazed and plain storage pottery, serving and consumption vessels
from Palermo, in a region where the new relationship between coastal centre and nearby mountain
economies was being forged. Correlation of the properties of the pottery assemblage with
the unusual architecture suggests the storage of a repeated ceramic set, perhaps on a household
basis, in a site which may be a fortified storage facility, rather than sustaining more permanent
occupation. The typological study provides new information on the range of ceramics circulating
in Sicily during the mid-11th century CE, revealing the full spectrum of ceramics consumed
at this time. This approach contrasts with work that privileges a view of simple transmission
of glazing technologies across the Islamic Mediterranean. Indeed a comparison of production
sequences in the crafting of similar glazed bowls at Palermo demonstrates the co-existence of
different communities of practice and cautions against over-simplified reconstructions of the
transmission of glazing technologies in the early medieval Mediterranean. The range of pottery
available from a variety of sources highlights the consumption choices made by these communities
in the medieval period.

Author Biographies

Viva Sacco, École française de Rome

Viva Sacco Viva Sacco (Membre de l’École française de Rome, section Moyen Âge) is an archaeologist
specialized in the study of pottery productions of the Islamic Sicily and the 9th-12th
century Ifrīqiya. Her PhD thesis was about the production and circulation of pottery in Palermo
during the 9th–12th centuries. Her research focuses on the establishment of new chronotypologies
and on the use of pottery as an historical source to better understand the evolution
of the commercial and social dynamics in the medieval Mediterranean. She is involved in a
number of international projects and her recent work focuses upon the comparison between
Sicily and Ifrīqiya, and on their commercial role on the central Mediterranean.

Veronica Testolini, University of Sheffield

Veronica Testolini took her BA in 2009 and my MA in 2013 from the University of Siena,
Department of Archaeology, where she participated in and supervised several excavations.
In 2013 Testolini took part in the excavation of the Roman Forum in Butrint (Albania) and
worked for an Austrian Archaeology Company. In 2014 she completed a MSc in Archaeological
Materials at the University of Sheffield with a dissertation on the petrographic analysis of
Islamic pottery from the medieval town of Guadix (Spain). In 2019 she was awarded a PhD by
the University of Sheffield on the technological changes in Sicily between the Byzantine and
the Islamic period. Her PhD research applied the chaîne opératoire approach to reconstruct
technological choices made by the people living such a cultural transition in Medieval Sicily.
Testolini has a strong commitment to external engagement, and she is currently working on
her own research project focused on the fundamental role of research dissemination and communication,
in a time of rising populism and misinformation.

José Maria Martin Civantos, University of Granada

José Maria Martin Civantos is Associate Professor in Medieval History and Archaeology at the
University of Granada. His fields of expertise include Landscape Archaeology and Islamic History
and Archaeology with a focus on the Western Mediterranean. His main interest is the historical
relationship between humans and the environment and the creation and management
of socio-ecosystems, including governance systems and traditional ecological knowledge in
the framework of sustainability, resilience capacity and community building. He developed his
academic career primarily in Spain and Italy, having the opportunity to benefit from interdisciplinary
and fruitful research environments, and establishing strong links with the scientific
community. Currently, he is the coordinator of the MEMOLab, Biocultural Archaeology Laboratory
( and PI in several national and international projects
and missions in Spain, Italy and Morocco.

Peter M. Day, University of Sheffield

Peter M. Day is Emeritus Professor of Archaeological Materials at the University of Sheffield
and Research Associate in the Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, NCSR Demokritos
in Greece. He specializes in the analysis of archaeological ceramic assemblages, integrating
macroscopic, microscopic and chemical means. His research examines questions of production,
exchange, technological practice and identity focusing mainly on the Neolithic, Bronze
Age and early Medieval periods of the Mediterranean. Currently, he leads both archaeological
and ethnographic projects examining tradition, technological change, transmission and
hybridity in the ceramic material culture of displaced populations.


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How to Cite

Sacco, V., Testolini, V., Martin Civantos, J. M., & Day, P. M. (2020). Islamic Ceramics and Rural Economy in the Trapani Mountains during the 11th century. Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 7(1), 39–77.




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