The 800-year-old graves were believed to have belonged to the Normans and were discovered by archeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Wrocław, south-west Poland, during excavations at the ruins of the San Michele del Golfo church near Palermo in Sicily.
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“Judging by the shape of some of the graves, a part of those buried in the cemetery were undoubtedly from the social elite or the clergy,” the leader of the dig, Professor Sławomir Moździoch from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Wrocław, told the Polish Press Agency.
Archeologists have discovered 10 burial sites so far this year, including three women and two children. Evidence suggests that the skeletons belonged to Normans from northern France.
“According to the local anthropologist, the tallness and strong build of the skeletons are proof of such an origin,” Professor Moździoch said.
In the second half of the 11th Century, the island of Sicily was won from the Muslim rulers by the Norman nobleman Roger of Hauteville, who went on to become the first Count of Sicily. Interestingly, construction on the San Michele del Golfo church began even before the nearby city of Palermo was won from the Muslims. As a consequence, it was built at a strategic location on top of a nearby hill. The church was a triple apse, single nave construction in the shape of a cross.
Excavations were also carried out inside the ruins of the medieval church. “The western-European shape of the church, its architecture and the collection of coins minted in Champagne or Lucca that were found there, show that the church was likely built and used by immigrants from Normandy and the northern part of the Italian Peninsula,” said Professor Moździoch.
“Research done up to this point is changing the previous conceptions of the church, in as much as its shape was more representative of western European churches from the 11th and 12th Centuries, and not of other such churches built in Sicily at that time. Simply put, the concept of the church was brought directly from the north via the craftsmen who came here to build it,” he added.