In my first blog post, I described some of the reasons why Cástulo was an important place in antiquity. Now I want to explain what made me want to come here and start a collaboration (future posts will discuss what life is like on an excavation and some of the special experiences I’ve had since coming to Cástulo).

For almost twenty years I’ve been interested in interactions between different groups of people in the ancient world. While the expansion of ancient states such as Persia, Macedonia, and Rome to form empires spanning great distances and different cultures is fairly well-known today, most lay-people are probably unaware that the Mediterranean was also the locus of other kinds of cross-cultural meetings and exchanges. Beginning in the eighth century BCE, for example, Greeks from various cities sent out colonial expeditions to South Italy, Sicily, North Africa, Syria, Egypt, France, and Spain. In every case, the territories they claimed were already occupied by indigenous populations. The results of these meetings — sometimes peaceful, sometimes aggressive, sometimes successful, sometimes failures — first attracted my attention in 1996, when I traveled to Sicily as part of a semester abroad in Rome. The island was ringed by foreign colonies (Greek on the east and south coasts, Phoenician at the western tip) while indigenous groups were pushed away from the coast into the hinterland. My own parents are immigrants, so I’ve always been conscious of the ways people construct their identities either as members of a group or as different from a group, for example through the use of language, household equipment, or even table manners. So how did these relationships work in antiquity?

I got the chance to start doing research on these issues when I was invited to participate in the long-standing American excavations at
, Sicily, in 1999. The town was founded by indigenous Sikels around 1000-900 BCE, and Greek influence became pervasive between 550-460 BCE. Even though it was a Sikel town, however, a historical source tells us that the city was captured (destroyed?) by an anti-Greek Sikel army in 459. At some point later on, the city was refounded with a Greek-style grid plan and then survived until the first century CE. I was asked to study the imported Athenian pottery from both the earlier and later towns to see what it could tell us about the dates of destruction and re-foundation. I also wanted to know how people at Morgantina incorporated these imported vases (mostly for drinking) into their daily lives. This work ultimately developed into my dissertation, which concerned the earliest households in the second Morgantina. Ultimately, I was able to determine that the group which settled the new Morgantina did so around 440-430 BCE, they were comprised of a mixed group of Sikels and Greeks, and — perhaps most importantly — the material in the household deposits were evidence for the ability of ancient consumers to make choices about the kinds of equipment they wanted to use in their homes (
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A Cástulo cup, made in Athens ca. 450 BCE, found at Morgantina.

What does any of this have to do with Cástulo? Well, it turns out that people at Morgantina particularly liked to buy a kind of Athenian cup that was broad and shallow, with a low foot and a sharp edge just inside the rim. The distinctive features of these cups had first been identified by a British scholar, Brian Shefton, in 1982. He connected them to Cástulo, where they had been found in large numbers as grave goods deposited in the city’s tombs. My mentor, Carla Antonaccio, wrote an article about one of these cups at Morgantina in 2003, but as we explored the museum storerooms, we discovered we had nearly a hundred of them from Morgantina. We also had a large number of a related type that was deeper and narrower. Carla and I thought that the fact that these cups seemed to appear particularly outside of Greece, in the western Mediterranean was significant; it indicated local preferences that were based on local, indigenous values. We wrote an article together on this interpretation in the February 2014 issue of the
Oxford Journal of Archaeology
. (As I later found out when compiling data my book, of the 34 sites in western Europe where these Athenian “Cástulo cups” were found, none was a Greek colony, further emphasizing the idea that they were manufactured for foreigners.)

Map of Spain.

Map of the distribution of Cástulo cups in ancient western Europe — note the popularity of these cups in southern Spain.

My interest in Cástulo cups was what first drew me to visit the site two years ago. How did the Iberians who lived here incorporate imported foreign goods into their lives? Did people at Cástulo know where their cups came from? Did they know how the cups were used in Greece — and did they even care? Now I can investigate these questions in greater detail.

Even more interesting is the fact that Cástulo was particularly enmeshed with a different group of traders coming from the eastern Mediterranean, the Phoenicians. Phoenician culture originated in a group of city-states located in the area now known as Lebanon. Phoenicians developed excellent sailing skills and traveled long distances to sell their wine and purple dye (made by crushing the shell of the murex shellfish).

They also created the alphabet from which the Roman one (and Greek, and Hebrew…) is derived. But they left us almost no literature or written history of their own to explain their worldview and culture. What descriptions we do have are biased, incomplete, and mostly come from the Old Testament and much later Greek and Roman historians (the same is true for the Iberians, who also adopted a Phoenician-style alphabet, but whose texts we are still unable to read). Archaeology offers a way to explore Phoenician and Iberian cultures more directly. By comparing finds at Cástulo with contemporary Phoenician colonies like Málaga on the Costa del Sol, and smaller Iberian towns such as Puente Tablas (about 50 km south of Cástulo), we can understand the range of interactions between these groups better.

There’s one final reason I’m interested in starting up research at Cástulo: the lack of interest up to now in ancient Iberia on the part of classical archaeologists from outside Spain. Unlike in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere, there have been hardly any foreign projects here. Before coming to Spain, I wasn’t sure quite why this was, and now that I’ve experienced the openness of Spanish archaeologists in sharing their research, I’m frankly even more confused. Whatever the reason, I want to raise awareness of Iberian material in the English-speaking world. The acquisitions editor at the University of Michigan Press has already asked me to submit a prospectus for a future publication once we’ve defined our plans more clearly. At the same time, Spanish archaeology definitely doesn’t need “rescuing” by outsiders like me! As you’ll see from future posts, experts here are developing highly innovative approaches to excavation and publication that are almost as important to disseminate as the results of their research.

Next time:
A day in the life of a dig…

Ancient Cástulo Part One
Ancient Cástulo Part Three
Ancient Cástulo Part Four
Ancient Cástulo Part Five