Melanie Jonasch Studies Settlements in Sicily

Sicily is an Italian island with a rich history, many archaeological remains, and mysteries yet to be solved. According to UCLA’s postdoctoral scholar Melanie Jonasch, one of the most exciting archaeological sites is the ruins of Selinunte, which was a large and important Greek city. Jonasch is investigating some of the many unanswered questions concerning the site: how the city was used and how it was radically transformed at least twice.

As an employee of the German Archaeological Institute, Jonasch is at UCLA on a three-month fellowship of the Archaeological Institute of America. She is a Classical archaeologist who has spent a great deal of time in Sicily. “I am mostly concerned with Greek Sicily or with Sicily during the Greek colonization between the eighth and third centuries BCE,” she explained. Although she has worked on projects in other parts of Sicily, her current focus is Selinunte, where she is “the coordinator for the whole project” and responsible for the excavations conducted within this framework. 

Previous research at the site has mainly focused on the temples and the large public areas, according to Jonasch. The urban area, which is close to 50 hectares (120 acres), “was completely covered with houses and other buildings in the Archaic and Classical periods,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how the space was used after the destruction by the Carthaginians in 409 BCE,” although there is evidence of its use as a military fort at one point and a civil settlement in Hellenistic times, she explained. “We don’t have good literary resources for the later periods,” she added, “so we must rely on the archaeological record.”

In addition to working with colleagues at UCLA whose interests overlap with her own, Jonasch is spending the bulk of her time doing research and working on an application for funding from the German Research Foundation for her new project. One of the ideas that she wants to develop is the theory that the local population in Sicily who were not opposed to the settlement were essential to the Greeks who settled at Selinunte. “What did the development of the cities mean for the local people in terms of possibilities, such as the status enhancement of the local elites?” is one example of that research. She also is working on a project investigating the development of the militarization of landscape in fourth century BCE Sicily, a phenomenon that can be seen throughout the Mediterranean Basin, she explained.

Jonasch “fell in love with the Pacific Coast” when she was doing a fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver a few years ago. “Besides the archaeological or scientific issues that made me apply for UCLA, I really wanted to come back to the West Coast,” she said.

To help introduce her research, on January 25, 2023, she presented an in-person lecture as part of the Cotsen Institute Wednesday Talks on A New Model for the City of Selinous (Sicily): Stories from a Current Field-Project.

Published on February 16, 2023.