Selinonte (Italie): an ancient Greek city yields its secrets

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Offering researchers an insight at life at the time.

Excavations at Selinunte, an ancient Greek city in Sicily, are yielding valuable information on its population, plan, and function, in its entirety. The city which thrived from the second half of the 7th century BC was left in ruins and its inhabitants were either enslaved or slaughtered by North African invaders, Carthaginian troops, in the late 5th century. The city’s public spaces, temples, fortifications and houses are remarkably well preserved.

XKeys dig bonn 450x338Excavations are revealing the secrets of Selinunte. Photo Credit: University of Bonn.

The entire city survives almost intact, something very unusual for an archaeological site of this era, since it was left deserted after the invasion and was gradually buried by earth and sand. Excavations are now uncovering the secrets of the city.

Under a collapsed roof, around a hearth, archaeologists have found half-eaten remains of meals abandoned in haste, and are now analysing the residues. They have also unearthed dozens of unfired ceramic pots and tiles.

David keys creative commons e1447426587288 339x338Selinunte first began to emerge from the mists of history in the 18th century. Photo Credit: Creative Commons/The Independent.

The insight scientists have gained from Selinunte has been extremeley significant since scholars can now see more clearly some of the key demographic and economic realities of the ancient world as a whole. Thanks to the precise number of houses (2,500), the survival of remains from the industrial zone, the streets, the harbour, the market, archaeologists can now get a detailed image of how an ancient city functioned, something of which so far they had only a fragmentary appreciation.

David keys creative commons2 e1447426573180 370x338Around 15% of the 250 acre city has, to this day, survived above ground. Photo Credit: Creative Commons/The Independent.

The industrial zone at the site has also yielded amazing evidence. Excavations at the site, ongoing for the past 15 years, are now uncovering pottery kilns and workshops complete with pottery-making equipment and even the pigments used to paint the pots. The kilns, some rectangular and some circular, were used to produce roof tiles, food containers, ceramic coffins, tableware, loom weights and small statues of gods and goddesses. Archaeologists have also discovered altars of Athena Ergane, Artemis, Demeter and Zeus in a chapel used by the city’s potters.

David keys creative commons4 450x338The excavation allows scholars to calculate the exact number of houses in a classical Greek city. Photo Credit: Creative Commons/The Independent.

Researchers are now planning to search for the foundations of the warehouses around the city’s man-made port, with the use of geophysical survey techniques. As evidence from the city market suggest, the harbour was a major trading centre. In some of the city’s houses and temples archaeologists have unearthed products from Egypt, Turkey, southern France and northern Italy.