Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.07.22

Carmela Angela Di Stefano, La necropoli punica di Palermo: dieci anni di scavi nell'area della Caserma Tuköry. Sicilia antiqua 4.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2009.  Pp. 252.  ISBN 9788862271523.  €160.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Giuseppe Garbati, ISCIMA (CNR), Rome (

[Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This book collects and orders the results of the archaeological excavation of the Punic necropolis of Caserma Tuköry in Palermo (Sicily), carried out throughout ten years (1989-1999).1 Extended for 1000 m2 and used for more than three hundred years (from the first quarter of the 6th to the first decades of the 3rd century BCE), the funerary area, with its 78 explored tombs presented in this volume, developed beside the main access road to the colony, running along the western side of it. The excavations have focused on a particular zone which was not deeply disturbed in ancient and modern times; thus the researchers were given the opportunity to obtain several and important contextual data about tomb typologies, funerary materials and death-rituals.

As clarified in the introductory notes, the book does not attempt to trace a complete historical framework for the necropolis and its relationship with the settlement, by addressing all the problems posed by the documentation (even if some reflections on the colony's history are included); on the contrary, the work is primarily meant to present an accurate and careful corpus of materials and contexts (compared and related with those already known), in order to provide all available data to investigate the development of a significant Phoenician and Punic site.

The book is divided into three parts, preceded by a short foreword and a helpful synthesis of the history of the excavations.

The first section opens with an overall view of the tombs' typologies and funerary equipment, including specific remarks on particular cases. This part is followed by the global presentation of all classes of objects--ceramics, amulets and scarabs, weapons, and ornamental goods--which is essential for a wide overview of the material culture attested in the area; and properly introduces the catalogue and its following considerations.

The second section is devoted to the catalogue of tombs and objects, and closes with some general comments. Each funerary context is scrupulously presented according to the tomb number and organized in a readable way (although the final layout could pay more attention to the "graphic visibility" of the contexts). After a short description of the burial, all pertinent gravegoods are recorded, with bibliographic references. Photographs of objects and tomb plans inserted within the text make the reading practical and direct; moreover the former are supplemented by fine drawings (some of them reproduced within the catalogue, others at the end of this section). This arrangement, especially with regard to the pottery, gives an immediate idea of the layout and furnishings of each burial. This part is also accompanied by four useful chronological tables that summarize all data and offer a diachronic reference of the contexts, the rituals and the finds associated with the tombs. The section closes with a schematic indication of some trade marks and the presentation of two short Punic inscriptions.

The first two parts of the book point out some interesting features already partially introduced in the foreword. Among many issues, (such as the relationships between Greek and native elements, which should be the subject of a future and closer examination), one in particular should be stressed: as C.A. Di Stefano underlines, the typologies of tombs, materials and rituals belonging to the first phases of the necropolis immediately link the Caserma Tuköry finds to specific regions of Phoenician expansion. The prevalence of the primary cremation ritual, for instance, finds comparisons mostly in Sardinia and Spain, while also revealing meaningful differences from some of the oldest and principal Phoenician colonies, such as Motya and Carthage. This feature is moreover confirmed by the similarity of some funerary equipment to the Sardinian ones, with respect to both the Phoenician tradition and imported goods. as the author suggests such a distinctive characteristic raises the central question of the movements of Levantine colonizers in this part of the Mediterranean and, particularly, the problem of the potential presence in Palermo of individuals or communities coming from other western colonies, during the first phases of the site. At the same time, the original "western projection" of Palermo (in contrast, for example, to the "Phoenician identity" of Motya) also involves the problem of the colony's relationship with the homeland at the beginning of the settlement's history. An aspect that should be developed further, starting with this book's documentation, is that of the spatial organization of the necropolis according to the possible formation of different (social or/and familial?) groups --for which, phase plans of the sepulchral area could be very useful . As for the Phoenician culture, an interesting comparison, also from a methodological point of view, is provided by the necropolis of Monte Sirai in Sardinia, where recent studies have pointed out an intentional use of the funerary space, as indicated, since archaic times, by the tomb distribution, which is meant to express some kind of cohesion among the groups.2

The third section is dedicated to anthropological and anthracological analysis (this latter regarding charred wood fragments from the tombs, useful to reconstruct some features of the ancient territory). The study of bones and ashes, in particular, is introduced by interesting observations about different kinds of rituals--such as the use of primary cremation mainly for adults or the preference of inhumation in stone sarcophagi for very young individuals--and it is enriched by the description of some helpful technical features (e.g., the depiction of heating stages of the bones during the cremation process). Obviously, this part is particularly important to understand the social dynamics of the site (in addition to the above-mentioned investigation of funerary spatial organization). The possibility to analyze and evaluate the connections among burials of male/female and mature/adult/young/infant individuals (and the related rituals) can be the starting point to read, partially at least, the mechanisms which ruled the occupation and the use of the area, according to social choices. At first glance the evidence from the Caserma Tuköry site shows an anomaly in the percentages of infant and adult burials (in pre-modern societies, such a relation should be constantly around 50 percent3 and comparison of the Palermo necropolis with the already mentioned case of Monte Sirai could be significant.4 The anthropological examination finally includes palaeopathological analysis, particularly important to study ancient conditions of life and specific social and economic aspects, such as Palermo's population diet and food requirements.

The main value of this volume is its systematic collection of all records from the site: fully analyzing each burial and the objects found in it, the work plan provides a large documentary panorama of primary importance to improve, first of all, the studies dedicated to Palermo's history and to the political and socio-economic dynamics that gave the colony its own position within the framework of Mediterranean trades and cultural interrelations.5 Moreover, its wealth of information will make this book one of the essential tools to further compare other Phoenician and Punic funerary contexts, both in Sicily and outside the island.

Table of contents:

Premessa. Elenco delle abbreviazioni.
L'area della caserma Tuköry: storia degli scavi (Carmela Angela Di Stefano).
Parte I. La tipologia delle tombe e la composizione dei corredi (Carmela Angela Di Stefano).
Parte II. Le tombe e i corredi. Catalogo. Segni commerciali (Carmela Angela Di Stefano).
Iscrizioni puniche (Maria Giulia Amadasi Guzzo).
Parte III. Il gruppo umano della caserma Tuköry (Rosaria Di Salvo).
Analisi dei frammenti di legno carbonizzato rinvenuti nelle tombe della necropoli punica della caserma Tuköry di Palermo (Francesca Terranova).


1.   As noted by C.A. Di Stefano, the latest investigations could not be included in the text; see the forthcoming article: F. Spatafora, "La necropoli punica di Palermo [scavi 2000-2005]. Spazio funerario, tipologie tombali e rituali" in 6° Congresso Internacional de Estudos Fenìcio Púnicio, Lisboa, 26 de Setembro a 1 de Outubro de 2005.
2.   See S. Finocchi, "La necropoli fenicia di Monte Sirai: alcune osservazioni sulla distribuzione spaziale del sepolcreto e sulla visibilità "funeraria" dei defunti," Daidalos 6 (2004) 133-46.
3.   See, e.g., what the studies by Ian Morris have indicated for funerary Attic customs between the sub-Mycenaean and the archaic periods: I. Morris, Burial and Ancient Society. The Rise of the Greek City-State (Cambridge 1987), and Death-ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity( Cambridge 1992).
4.   M. Botto--L. Salvadei, "Indagini alla necropolis arcaica di Monte Sirai. Relazione preliminare sulla campagna di scavi del 2002," Rivista di Studi Fenici 33 (2005) 81-167.
5.   This aspect is obviously indispensable, especially considering the recent growth in our knowledge of ancient Sicily, and specifically this settlement. See, e.g., F. Spatafora, "Dagli emporia fenici alle città puniche. Elementi di continuità e discontinuità nell'organizzazione urbanistica di Palermo e Solunto," in S. Helas--D. Marzoli , eds.Phönizisches und punisches Städtewesen. Akten der internationalen Tagung in Rom vom 21. bis 23 Februar 2007, (Mainz am Rhein 2009) 219-39.

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