Manual Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History

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Amongst other great additions to world cuisine was tuna. The Sicilians had always been blessed with excellent tuna fishing grounds but it was the Arabs who taught them how to catch them collectively, turning tuna into one of the world's great staples.

And it was a Sicilian who first thought of canning tuna in oil. Benjamin notes in her appendix that most of her sources were in Italian, which explains the rather short suggestions for further reading in English, which is unfortunate, as I consider a book's bibliography one of its riches and often use it as a 'next steps' guide. A good book to get in Kindle format to take with you if you're travelling to or in Sicily, with a very good Index Here at Walmart.

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Sandra Benjamin. The Greeks called the island Aeolia; it's the largest of a group of islands now known as both "Aeolian" and "Lipari. This obsidian was born of an eruption of the volcano Monte Pelato, in Aeolia's northeast, around B. Generations passed, into the period we call neolithic. On the big island of Sicily people were beginning to plant crops and raise animals, but they still obtained food through gathering and hunting. Those who went to seek food in the mountains behind Sicily's north coast could, in clear weather, see small islands in the distance and doubtless wondered if food might be easier to find on those islands.

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But for a long long time they couldn't get there to investigate. Eventually, sometime during the fifth millennium B.

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The explorers decided to fetch their friends. The neolithic era is the period when humans used stone implements.

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They used a lot of flint, as it is relatively easy to shape. Although flint is very hard, neolithic persons found that by pressing a stone or a bone against a piece of freshly dug flint they could make its edges flake off and in so doing sharpen an edge for cutting. Obsidian, having natural sharp edges, required less work to make a knife, so the people of Lipari brought it into use alongside flint.

The new islanders turned pieces of obsidian into cutting tools and before long just a few centuries they had an export industry. The Lipari craftsmen became skilled in working obsidian, but the demand for their product had less to do with their skill than with the scarcity of the raw material. A few other volcanic Mediterranean islands had small quantities, but Lipari had by far the largest supply.

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Although obsidian is a product of volcanic eruption, most volcanic eruptions yield no obsidian. Obsidian is that rare lava that cooled very quickly, into a kind of natural glass; usually lava is exploded by hot air, making pumice, a light-colored, lightweight substance for which prehistoric man had no use. But apparently he could use all the obsidian implements he could get, certainly all that Lipari could produce. The location of Lipari in the center of the Mediterranean facilitated the transport of the heavy product.

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Craftsmen streamed into Lipari — so many that some of the newcomers had to settle and practice their trade on nearby smaller islands. In the Mediterranean basin during the neolithic era, the Aeolian archipelago was a major population center, and Lipari a boom town. As I type away at my computer, beside it on my desk stands a three-kilo hunk of obsidian. The laptop, matte black, symbolizes international commerce of our time. The obsidian, its shiny black brightened by straight, narrow white lines running irregularly through it, represents international commerce at its very beginning.

Neolithic man wanted sharp tools for cutting his animals and his enemies. Obsidian was the sharpest workable material he knew, and most obsidian came from Lipari, so Lipari enjoyed a seller's market. For some seventeen hundred years. That was around — B. But more significant than the when is the where: notwithstanding the fertility of her lavic soil, Lipari's strong winds precluded the growth of grain sufficient to feed the population.

The migrants from the mainland had to spend much of their time fishing, seizing sea-animals and wild birds, gathering wild fruits, and trying to eke what crops they could out of the land. Of course the obsidian producers added to their alimentary stocks by their trade. The food and drink naturally arrived in containers, most of them ceramic. Neolithic people used ceramics for pots and drinking cups, for statues and construction elements, and for containers of all kinds — for them ceramic was as multiform and as ubiquitous as plastic is for us.

At a remove of fifty centuries, and despite the fragility of ceramic ware, many thousands of pieces of early pottery can now be examined on Lipari. The archaeologists who study the pieces of pottery know how to read them like words in books — from the form of a piece they usually know how it was used, and from the form and decoration they usually know where it was made and when.


The scholars move from provenance to foreign trade, for having determined the kind or kinds of ceramics produced in a given locality, they can attribute the discrepant pieces to foreign production. The foreign pieces indicate either the presence of foreign peoples or commerce with them. Archaeologists collectively can determine the provenance of most pottery pieces. Pottery is therefore important not only as work of art but also as document about the movement of peoples.

The ceramics found on Lipari claim special attention because Lipari produced relatively little pottery. The soil being lava-based, it lacked clay. When the islanders made pottery using just the local kaolin soil, the result was poor. They imported clay from the north coast of Sicily to mix with the local kaolin soil and made other pieces more successfully. Lipari residents used a great deal of pottery made by other peoples. Fragments found on Lipari are among the oldest known from the Mediterranean area. Some pieces have elegantly incised and stamped decorations of a type characteristic of the culture of Stentinello.

Stentinello, probably Sicily's earliest agricultural society, had its base in southeast Sicily. The ceramics found on Lipari suggest that the first settlers there originated in Stentinello and drifted up to Sicily's north coast. Not the easiest book for the new-comer, it covers a lot of ground quickly, but always with a fascinating insight.

Excellent on the notoriously difficult period An amusing account of travels through Sicily. Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb.

Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History

A fascinating account of the Mafia in Sicily. Norman Lewis was, by all accounts, married to a Sicilian. An intriguing account of the excavation and restoration of the temples of Agrigento. Princes Under the Volcano — Raleigh Trevelyan A slightly specialist, but nevertheless fascinating account of the Enlgish families living in Sicily in the nineteenth century.

Made in Sicily — Giorgio Locatelli For many, this cookbook has been the inspiration to come and discover Sicily.