Monte Polizzo: history of research  



Monte Polizzo is 6 km. northwest of Salemi, in Trapani province, western Sicily (37· 56’ N, 12· 46’ E. The site consists of an interconnected group of ridges. The highest point is 725.9 meters (2359 feet) above sea level.

Monte Polizzo has long been a favorite spot for rabbit hunting, and people from Salemi and other local towns have known of the ancient site there for centuries. In the twentieth century several local antiquarians collected artifacts from the site, many of which are now on display in the Museo Civico in Salemi.

Western Sicily was at the center of research in classical archaeology in the eighteenth century, with major publications of the temples at Agrigento and Selinunte, and scholarship continued to focus on these spectacular sites and the Phoenician city of Mozia until well into the twentieth century. With the exception of Segesta, inland sites were largely ignored; and even at Segesta, work concentrated on the remarkable theater and fifth-century temple. Vincenzo Tusa says that when he started working at the Soprintendenza alle Antichità di Palermo (which then included Trapani province) in 1949, he could find only one published article devoted to the archaeology of non-Greek western Sicily. That focused on the Elymians, the people whom Thucydides (6.2) identified around 400 BC as living around Segesta.

Professor Tusa can be considered the father of the archaeology of indigenous western Sicily. First, he conducted six seasons of excavation at an important earlier temple at Segesta (1953-1961). In 1963, when he took over as Soprintendente in Palermo, there was still almost no archaeological information on inland west Sicily, so in 1970 he launched an ambitious new campaign of trial excavations, including the first organized dig at Monte Polizzo. He opened several trial trenches, uncovering Iron Age remains, associated with sixth-century BC Greek pottery.

In the 1980s Professor Tusa’s initiatives paid off, and the number of excavations and surveys in inland western Sicily rapidly increased. By the end of the decade there was so much research under way that the Società Siciliana per la Storia Patria held a major congress on the Elymians and Elymian Studies at Gibellina in May 1989. This was such a success that the late Giuseppe Nenci of the Scuola Normale di Pisa formed the Centro di Studi e Documentazione sull’Area Elima (CESDAE), based in Pisa and in Gibellina. CESDAE held further international congresses on Elymian Studies in Gibellina in 1991, 1994, 1997, and 2000, with another planned for 2003.

In 1996, Sebastiano Tusa—Vincenzo Tusa’s son and Superintendent of Prehistoric Archaeology for the Trapani province (now a separate administrative unit from Palermo), as well as Professor of Archaeology at the University of Naples—decided to create an international project to advance understanding of the Elymians, with Monte Polizzo at its core. Professor Tusa and Kristian Kristiansen, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Göteborg in Sweden and founder of the Association of European Archaeology, launched the Sicilian-Scandinavian Archaeological Project, which began fieldwork in 1998.

Between 1998 and 2001 Christopher Prescott of the University of Oslo directed excavation of House I, a building dating c. 550-525 BC [SSAP Site], as well as a deeply stratified deposit (“the Profile”) in 1998-1999, and a series of soundings on the north slope of the acropolis in 1999. In 2002 Kristian Kristiansen began new Scandinavian excavations further to the west. Sebastiano Tusa and students from the universities of Naples and Palermo excavated sixth-century houses at the Portella Sant’Anna in 1999-2000.

Alongside the activities of the Sicilian-Scandinavian Archaeological Project, Michael Kolb of Northern Illinois University conducted an intensive surface survey around Monte Polizzo in 1998-2000, as well as excavating a Bronze Age tomb on Montagna Grande in 2000-2001. In 2001-2002 the NIU team excavated four trenches in Salemi, finding Spanish-period, medieval, and fourth-century BC layers, and some material from the sixth century BC [NIU Site].

In 1999 Stanford University also joined the Monte Polizzo project. Michael Shanks and Emma Blake brought a dozen Stanford students to Salemi, and began analysis of finds from the 1998 excavations.


Since 2000, Dr. Blake has continued to direct artifact analysis not only for Stanford’s excavations but also for the whole Sicilian-Scandinavian Archaeological Project. Also in 2000, Ian Morris began excavating on the acropolis with students from Stanford and other universities and volunteers from Salemi, Corleone, and Marsala. In 2001 Jennifer Trimble carried out a magnetometry survey, and by 2002 the acropolis excavation had become one of the largest archaeological projects in the west Mediterranean, with a staff of more than eighty people, drawn from the US, Italy, Canada, Britain, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. Stanford’s excavation is funded primarily by the Tressider Fund in the Department of Classics ( and the Undergraduate Research Projects program, directed by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Tanya Brunot of the Classics department provides administrative support. The American Academy in Rome sponsors the project, and annual preliminary reports in English are being published in the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, beginning with volume 46 (2001). Preliminary reports in Italian will be published annually in Sicilia Archeologica, beginning with volume 35 (2002).




Vincenzo Tusa, Segesta, and Monte Polizzo (1970)

See under “Vincenzo Tusa”

Elymian Congresses

Giuseppe Nenci, Sebastiano Tusa, and Vincenzo Tusa, eds., Gli elimi e l’area elima, ed. (Palermo 1988/1989: Archivio Storico Siciliano n. s. 14-15)

AA.VV., Giornate internazionali di studi sull’area Elima, Atti (2 vols., Pisa-Gibellina 1992)

AA.VV., Seconde giornate internazionali di studi sull’area Elima, Atti (3 vols., Pisa-Gibellina 1997)

AA.VV., Terze Giornate internazionali di Studi sull’area elima, Atti (2 vols., Pisa-Gibellina 2000)

Related collections of papers

AA.VV., Di terra in terra: nuove scoperte archeologiche nella provincia di Palermo (Palermo 1991)

H-P. Isler, D. Käch, and O. Stefani, eds., Wohnbauforschung in Zentral- und Westsizilien (Zurich 1997)

AA. VV., Archeologia e territorio (Palermo 1997)

AA.VV., Palermo punica (Palermo 1998)

SSAP research at Monte Polizzo

Christian Mühlenbock and Christopher Prescott, Scandinavian-Sicilian Archaeological Project: House 1, Annual Report 1999-2000 (Oslo 2001)

Christopher Prescott, Christian Mühlenbock, and Eva Englund, eds., Sicilian-Scandinavian Archaeological Project: Annual Report 1998 (Oslo 2001)

NIU research at Monte Polizzo

Michael Kolb and Sebastiano Tusa, “The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age landscape of interior western Sicily,” Antiquity 75 (2001) 503-504

Stanford research at Monte Polizzo

Ian Morris, Trinity Jackman, Emma Blake, and Sesbastiano Tusa, “Stanford University excavations on the acropolis of Monte Polizzo, Sicily, I: preliminary report on the 2000 season,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 46 (2001) 253-71

Ian Morris, Trinity Jackman, Emma Blake, and Sesbastiano Tusa, “Stanford University excavations on the acropolis of Monte Polizzo, Sicily, II: preliminary report on the 2001 season,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 47 (2002) 153-98

Cornelius Holtorf, “Notes on the life history of a pot sherd,” Journal of Material Culture 7 (2002) 49-71



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