A fascinating new chapter in the history of the Mediterranean increases interest in an archaeological settlement that, over decades of studies and excavations, has returned a rich and sophisticated heritage of finds, testifying to the existence in the small island of Ustica of an advanced and wealthy community, whose existence was abruptly interrupted around 1200 BC by a natural or anthropic event still shrouded in mystery.

An important discovery resulting from geophysical investigations conducted in the “Villaggio dei Faraglioni”, the ancient settlement on the island of Ustica dating back to the Middle Bronze Age (Sicily), sheds new light on the construction techniques of defensive structures in Mediterranean prehistory.

The study was carried out by a team of researchers from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), in collaboration with the archaeological park of Himera, Solunto and Iato of the Sicilian Region, the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, the the Literary Village Association of Ustica, the Laboratory Museum of Earth Sciences of Ustica (LABMUST), the University of Siena, the Department of Mathematics and Geosciences of the University of Trieste and the Ministry of Culture.

The search results Unveiling a hidden fortification system at “Faraglioni” Middle Bronze Age Village of Ustica Island (Palermo, Italy) through ERT and GPR perspectives, were recently published in the international scientific journal Journal of Applied Geophysics and reveal details on an antemural structure as long as the main walls of the Villaggio dei Faraglioni, thus strengthening the hypothesis of a complex and sophisticated defensive system.

The Village of the Faraglioni prospered between 1400 and 1200 BC, in a stretch of coast jutting out into the sea in the northern part of the island”, explains Domenico Targia, director of the Archaeological Park of Himera, Solunto and Iato. Considered by archaeologists to be one of the best preserved Mediterranean settlements of its time, it was characterized by an orderly urban plan with dozens of huts built on the edge of narrow streets and by a mighty wall, 250 meters long and between 4 and 5 m high, which surrounded the ‘inhabited to defend it from attacks and raids”.

The research campaign, which involved geologists, geophysicists, architects and archaeologists, started from the need to study with non-invasive techniques some semi-buried structures that emerge at times on the ground outside the defensive wall.

“We brought to Ustica scientific instruments used by INGV researchers to carry out geophysical prospecting such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electrical tomography (ERT). Thanks to them, it was possible to locate with accuracy and in a totally non-invasive way the deep foundations of the antemural structure as long as the wall, which performed the functions of the first defensive barrier”, He adds Vincenzo Sapia, researcher at INGV.

According to scientists, this village constitutes an exemplary case in the Mediterranean context of the Bronze Age, since it demonstrates that already in those times there must have existed an urban plan with the task of orderly distributing huts and access roads, and designing a long and high defensive wall together with other anti-mural structures, such as those now discovered thanks to geophysical investigations.

Franco Foresta Martin, director of the Earth Sciences Museum Laboratory of Ustica and associated with INGV, he claims “Our discovery opens a new window into understanding this ancient village, suggesting a defensive complexity that goes beyond expectations. Geophysical technology has allowed us to reveal hidden layers of history, paving the way for further investigations without the invasive use of excavations”.

“The new discoveries fuel interest in this extraordinary site. We now want to deepen our investigations, answering still open questions on the construction and function of the defensive system, and outline a clearer vision of the daily life of this Advanced Age community of the Middle Bronze Age”, add the architect Anna Russolillo and archaeologist Pierfrancesco Talamo.

“This highly multidisciplinary study”, concludes the INGV researcher Sandro de Vita “demonstrates how the application of non-invasive investigation methods, combined with surface geological, geomorphological and archaeological observations, can indicate in a detailed and timely manner the areas on which direct investigations should be further investigated, avoiding tests and excavation campaigns that are expensive in economic terms and storms.”

Link to the article: Anna Russolillo, Franco Foresta Martin, Antonio Merico, Vincenzo Sapia, Pierfrancesco Talamo, Valerio Materni, Marta Pischiutta, Sandro de Vita, Stefano Furlani, Domenico Targia, Mauro A. Di Vito, “Unveiling a hidden fortification system at ‘Faraglioni’ Middle Bronze Age Village of Ustica Island (Palermo, Italy) through ERT and GPR prospects”, Journal of Applied Geophysics, vol. 220 (2024), 105272, ISSN: 0926-9851, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jappgeo.2023.105272