Headland or stack? Paleogeographic reconstruction of the coast at the Faraglioni Middle Bronze Age Village (Ustica Island, Italy)

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Stefano Furlani
Franco Foresta Martin


The Faraglioni Village at volcanic island of Ustica (Palermo, Sicily) is one of the best preserved coastal Middle Bronze Age site of the Mediterranean area. It was built on a marine terrace overlooking the sea. Although the southern border of the Village is well defined, many doubts concern its past extent toward the sea. Around 3250-3200 BP the inhabitants suddenly abandoned the site, leaving all their belongings. This sudden flight could be related to a natural disaster that induced the population to find a safer place, or to a hostile invasion from the sea.

The coast is formed by 20 m-high sea cliffs, which are often subject to collapses. A small platform develops at the cliff toe and it is locally covered by a beach with pebbles, cobbles and rounded blocks. Off-shore, in front of the archaeological village, a stack, called Colombaio, occurs. It is 17 m x 11 m wide at the top, roughly at the same elevation above the sea level of the terrace on which is located the Faraglioni Village, and it lies about 60 m from the sea cliffs. The latter are cut in columnar basalts, roughly 1 meter in size. A sea cave, 14 m long, 6 m large and 9 m high was discovered inside the stack during the field surveys. There are many submerged or slightly emerged rocks in the canal between the stack and the mainland.

Since archaeological remains have been found on the top of the stack, archaeologists suppose that there was a connection with the mainland. Literature suggested that most probably a natural bridge connected the stack and the coast; and that it collapsed as a result of a natural catastrophic event, such as an earthquake.

Bathymetric data compared to the sea level change models suggest that the area of the village was largest than nowadays, but the retreat rate is unknown, so it is impossible to estimate the Bronze Age extent of the village and assert that it was certainly connected with the stack. The separation of the stack from the coast could have happened long time before the Bronze Age. Probably, only the so-called Nerone stack was connected during the Bronze Age.

However, it is not necessary to hypothesize the occurrence of a natural “bridge” or a human-made connection with the stack from the mainland at the same elevation of the village, because during the Middle Bronze Age, about 3400-3200 BP, the sea level was 3 meter lower than today and the path between the mainland and the stack was about 1 m above the past sea level. The stack was isolated from the village only during severe storms.

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How to Cite
Furlani, S. and Foresta Martin, F. (2018) “Headland or stack? Paleogeographic reconstruction of the coast at the Faraglioni Middle Bronze Age Village (Ustica Island, Italy)”, Annals of Geophysics, 62(1), p. VO12. doi: 10.4401/ag-7748.
Special Issue: Explosive Eruptions and the Mediterranean Civilizations through Prehistory and History

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