The ancient western Mediterranean is known for its high degree of connectivity: Phoenician traders from the Levantine coast sailed to North Africa and the southern coasts of Iberia, Greek settlers reached the shores of Italy and southern France, and the Romans—in their turn—conquered and colonized territory stretching to the Atlantic Ocean. Sardinia, the largest island in the western Mediterranean, sat at an important crossroads in this interconnected world. The indigenous Nuragic culture developed across the island, and these local inhabitants interacted with foreign colonizers and traders, who came to exchange goods and to access Sardinia’s salt, marine resources, obsidian, metals, and rich agricultural lands, among other attractions. Both because of Sardinia’s diverse landscape and central position in ancient social and economic networks in the western Mediterranean, archaeology on the island is uniquely positioned to contribute to ongoing discussions about connectivity, human-environment interaction, and the impact of colonialism on both urban and rural landscapes in the ancient past.
To this end, the Sinis Archaeological Project uses multi-scalar regional survey and targeted excavation to explore settlement patterns, landscape use, and colonial interactions in west-central Sardinia, a particularly varied landscape from both environmental and cultural perspectives. Our primary research questions include:
- How were the diverse landscapes (agricultural plains, mountains, coastal regions, and inland hills) used over the course of the 1st millennium BCE and beyond? Can changing patterns of exploitation and settlement be detected over time? How does contemporary landscape use impact the archaeological remains?
- To what extent did Phoenician, Punic, and Roman colonial interaction impact each of these landscapes? Were there major differences between colonial interaction in urban and rural environments, or between landscapes with different resources (agricultural vs. mountainous)?
- How were indigenous Nuragic sites perceived and used by foreign colonizers? What imported material or outside influence can be observed at these sites? By contrast, what material culture shows continuity of local traditions? What local influence can be observed at sites of colonial foundation?
Answering these research questions, most immediately, helps us to better understand life in Sardinia in the past, with a primary focus on the period from the 1st millennium BCE through late antiquity. To date, these topics have generally been explored through excavation of urban, coastal sites and indigenous inland sites. Because archaeological survey has not yet been carried out in our survey area, this method provides a different and more nuanced perspective of the ancient landscapes and their inhabitants than is possible to achieve through excavation of major settlements alone. In addition, our research also provides an important new dataset through which to explore connectivity and colonialism in the ancient Mediterranean more broadly. We aim to better understand not only how Sardinia fit into wider Mediterranean networks of circulation and trade, but also whether connectivity impacted this particular island landscape differently from other areas such as mainland Italy or Spain.
In order to address these research questions, the Sinis Archaeological Project uses a multi-scalar methodology to assess the landscape: regional reconnaissance at the largest scale, pedestrian survey at the intermediate scale, and intensive scatter-based collection and/or targeted excavation at the smallest scale. This work is supplemented by the use of drone photography and photogrammetry for the documentation and discovery of archaeological sites and features. Through experimentation and mixing of these methodologies, the Sinis Archaeological Project promotes the integration of multi-scalar survey and excavation methods to answer similar questions elsewhere in the Mediterranean and beyond, while providing a successful methodological model for this research strategy.