Unique Etruscan Stele Discovered at Ancient Temple in Italy

Unique Etruscan Stele Discovered at Ancient Temple in Italy

Researchers excavating a site in Poggio Colla, northeast of Florence, in Italy discovered a rare stele while working in their 2015 field season. The large stele contains text that is believed to be religious in nature and which archaeologists think will contain details on a deity that was worshipped by the Etruscans in the 6th century BC.

The discovery of the stele was announced during a scientific exhibit of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency entitled “Shadow of the Etruscans,” in Prato, Italy.

Phys.Org reports that the text on the great slab contains at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks. Although the Etruscans are believed to have been a highly cultured people, many of the previous examples of ancient Etruscan writing have come from funeral settings or in the form of just names and titles. Thus, it is expected that the stele from a different context will likely contain new vocabulary and information on the Etruscan way of life.

Detail of inscription. ( Poggio Colla Field School (MVAP) )

The history of the Etruscans continues to be something of a mystery. It is known that they emerged in what was Etruria (modern day Tuscany) in the Western and central regions of Italy, North of Latium. It is known that they held great power by the start of the 6 th century BC and that they had much influence on later civilizations, especially in relation to art, architecture, and mythology. Nonetheless, there is still a lacking in the amount and quality of Etruscan writing.

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"This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions," archaeologist Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project , said in a press release discussing the discovery. He continued:

“We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language. Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text. We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words. But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site.”

The stele is made of sandstone and measures about 1.2m (4ft) tall and 0.6 m (2ft) wide. It weighs 227kg (500lbs) and was found embedded in the foundations of what was once a monumental temple. Warden said in the press release that at one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority.

The discovery of the inscription. (Poggio Colla Field School (MVAP) )

Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, agreed that the find is special and said:

“[…] the Etruscans […] tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets. This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 BCE. Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure. Apart from the famous seaside shrine at Pyrgi, with its inscribed gold plaques, very few Etruscan sanctuaries can be so conclusively identified. A study of the names of the dedicants will yield rich data on a powerful society where the nobility, commoners and even freed slaves could offer public vows and gifts.”

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"Pyrgi tablets". Laminated sheets of gold with a treatise both in Etruscan and Phoenician languages. From Etruscan Museum in Rome. ( Public Domain )

Conservation of the stele has begun and it is expected to take a few months for a full analysis of the artifact, which will include photogrammetry and laser scanning. Currently, the stele is difficult to read as it has been chipped and heavily abraded over time. There is also evidence suggesting that the sandstone was burnt at some time in the past. Cleaning will finally allow scholars to read the inscription, one which they have high hopes for.

Scientists examine the Etruscan stele. ( Mugello Valley Project )

Featured Image: The Etruscan stele was embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been for more than 2,500 years. Source: Mugello Valley Project


    2,500-year old slab unearthed, offers glimpse into the ancient Etruscan world

    Archaeologists have unearthed a rare text from an ancient temple in Italy that could reveal new details about the Etruscan civilization.

    The text is inscribed on a large sandstone slab from the 6th century B.C. and may provide insight into Etruscan worship of a god or goddess.

    “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” said archaeologist Gregory Warden, in a statement released by Southern Methodist University.

    Warden, professor of archaeology at Franklin University, Switzerland, is professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University and co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

    The Etruscan civilization existed from approximately the 8th century B.C. to the 3rd century in what is now central and northern Italy. Etruscans influenced many aspects of the Roman Empire, such as religion, government, art and architecture, according to experts.

    The stele has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks, likely with new words never seen before (Credit: Mugello Valley Project)

    Weighing about 500 pounds, the slab is nearly four feet tall and more than two feet wide. Warden notes that the slab has about 70 legible letters and punctuation marks.

    The slab, or stele, was found in the foundations of an Etruscan temple northeast of Florence, where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years.

    “We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language,” said Warden, in the statement. “Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text.”

    Photogrammetry, which takes measurements from photographs, and laser scans, are being used to analyze the inscriptions. Although the sandstone is chipped and abraded and one side is reddened, possibly from burning, archaeologists expect to read the inscription after cleaning.

    Rex Wallace, professor of classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an expert on the Etruscan language, will study the text.

    “We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words,” Warden said. “But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site.”


    One of the most significant Etruscan discoveries in decades names female goddess Uni

    Archaeologists translating a very rare inscription on an ancient Etruscan temple stone have discovered the name Uni -- an important female goddess.

    The discovery indicates that Uni -- a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place -- may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

    The mention is part of a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone, said archaeologist Gregory Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

    Scientists on the research discovered the ancient stone embedded as part of a temple wall at Poggio Colla, a dig where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

    Now Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound slab -- called a stele (STEE-lee) -- to translate the text. It's very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

    "The location of its discovery -- a place where prestigious offerings were made -- and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character," said Adriano Maggiani, formerly Professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

    "It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary -- a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space," said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.

    Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more. While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before, particularly since this discovery veers from others in that it's not a funerary text.

    The Mugello Valley archaeologists are announcing discovery of the goddess Uni at an exhibit in Florence on Aug. 27, "Scrittura e culto a Poggio Colla, un santuario etrusco nel Mugello," and in a forthcoming article in the scholarly journal Etruscan Studies.

    Text may specify the religious ritual for temple ceremonies dedicated to the goddess

    It's possible the text contains the dedication of the sanctuary, or some part of it, such as the temple proper, so the expectation is that it will reveal the early beliefs of a lost culture fundamental to western traditions.

    The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

    Etruscans once ruled Rome, influencing that civilization in everything from religion and government to art and architecture. A highly cultured people, Etruscans were also very religious and their belief system permeated all aspects of their culture and life.

    Inscription may reveal data to understand concepts and rituals, writing and language

    Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves, thus funerary in nature.

    "We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades," Warden said. "It's a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language."

    Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date.

    One section of the text refers to "tina?," a reference to Tina, the name of the supreme deity of the Etruscans. Tina was equivalent to ancient Greece's Zeus or Rome's Jupiter.

    Once an imposing and monumental symbol of authority

    The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority, said Warden, president and professor of archaeology at Franklin University Switzerland.

    The text is being studied by two noted experts on the Etruscan language, including Maggiani, who is an epigrapher, and Rex Wallace, Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is a comparative linguist.

    A hologram of the stele will be shown at the Florence exhibit, as conservation of the stele is ongoing at the conservation laboratories of the Archaeological Superintendency in Florence. Digital documentation is being done by experts from the architecture department of the University of Florence. The sandstone is heavily abraded and chipped, so cleaning should allow scholars to read the inscription.

    Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.


    Archaeologists Find Etruscan Stele with Rare Inscriptions

    The 2,500-year-old Etruscan stele was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple at the Poggio Colla site in Italy. Image credit: Mugello Valley Project.

    The artifact in question is a sandstone slab (stele) dating from about 500 BC. It was uncovered from an Etruscan temple at the Poggio Colla site in northern Etruria, Italy.

    The stele has a mass of about 227 kg and is roughly 4 feet (1.2 m) tall by more than 2 feet (60 cm) wide.

    “The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority,” said Prof. Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

    “The Mugello Valley dig, specifically the Poggio Colla site, is northeast of Florence, Italy. The slab would have been connected to the early sacred life of the sanctuary there.”

    “The architecture then was characterized by timber-framed oval structures pre-dating a large temple with an imposing stone podium and large stone column bases of the Tuscan Doric type, five of which have been found at the site.”

    According to Prof. Warden, the Etruscan stele has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks.

    “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” he said.

    “Inscriptions of more than a few words, on permanent materials, are rare for the Etruscans, who tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets,” added Dr. Jean Turfa, Etruscan scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

    “This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 BC.”

    “Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure.”

    Closeup of text on the Etruscan stele. Image credit: Mugello Valley Project.

    The Etruscan civilization once ruled Rome and influenced Romans on everything from religion to government to art to architecture.

    Considered one of the most religious people of the ancient world, Etruscan life was permeated by religion, and ruling magistrates also exercised religious authority.

    “We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words. But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site,” Prof. Warden said.

    Conservation and study of the stele is underway in the next few months at the conservation laboratories of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency in Florence.

    The sandstone, likely from a local source, is heavily abraded and chipped, with one side reddened, possibly from undergoing burning in antiquity. Cleaning will allow scientists to read the inscription.

    The stele was officially reported during a scientific exhibit of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency starting March 19, 2016 in Prato, Italy.


    Monday, March 16, 2009

    History of Etruscan civilization

    The Northern provenance theory, which bases its evidence on the similarities of Raetian and Etruscan languages has one major flaw, in that the Raetian Alpine inscriptions are much later, and are more consistent with later Etruscan influences, or associated with the scattering of the Northern Etruscans as a result of Celtic incursions.

    Modern archaeologists have come to suggest that the history of the Etruscans can be traced relatively accurately, based on the examination of burial sites, artifacts, and writing. The descendants of the Villanovan people in Etruria in central Italy, a separate Etruscan culture emerged in the beginning of the 7th century BC, evidenced by the inscriptions in a language similar to Euboean Greek. The burial tombs, some of which had been fabulously decorated, promotes the idea of an aristocratic city-state, with centralized power structures maintaining order and constructing public works, such as irrigation networks, roads, and town defenses.

    There are problems with all theories which suggest that the truth is far more complicated as always.A likely solution is that the "Etruria" was autochthonous but were subjected to cultural influences and immigrants at various stages in their history. The nature of these cultural influences are nowadays understood much better. The result of this was a gradual development of an Etruscan civilization. The influx at some time of a group from Lydia is not inconsistent with this Neo Autochthonous theory which is gaining more and more acceptance.

    There is no precise time when we can say that the Etruscan civilization began. According to the libri fatales as described by Censorinus, the date can be calculated at 968 BCE, but it was a gradual change that came over the land that was to become Etruria. Between the 10th and the 8th century BCE, several things began to happen: There was a drift from scattered village settlements into urbanised centres. The incidence of cremations decreased in favor of inhumation. Land was cleared and drained on a massive scale. Trade with the Aegean commenced, evident from the appearance of Greek artifacts.

    The plentiful deposits of metals on Elba and the nearby coastline, and the bounty of Etruscan agriculture resulted in growing prosperity for the Etruscans. Bulk export trade typically used large shipping amphorae, and metal ingots have also been found in several sites.

    By the end of the 7th Century BCE, Etruscan territory had expanded to include parts of Northern italy, with the Po Valley league, and the Etruscan city states held sway over large areas of Latium, including Rome, and Campania to the South.

    With the increasing trade and the specialization of crafts, the application of new techniques, particularly in metal extraction and agriculture, the living standard improved. This corresponded to an exponential increase in demographic growth. The Etruscan aristocracy increased in power, authority and wealth. They were buried in rich tombs or necropolises next to cities such as Tarquinia, Caere, Vulci and Veii.

    Greek immigrants started to arrive and began to exert a significant influence in the art and culture of Etruria.

    It was also during this period that grapes were introduced to the Italian peninsula. Grape seeds found in early Etruscan grave sites in Chiusi, show that the predecessor of Chiante had arrived. Craters and other vessels of Greek design started to appear.

    The Orientalizing Period is generally taken as the period between the end of the 8th Century until the late 7th Century BCE. It is so called because of the eastern influence in art and artifacts. Typical of this period was the Regolini Galassi tomb at Caere, in which were found objects with obvious Egyptian and Eastern influence such as Ostrich eggs, Sphinxes, scarabs and lions with an Assyrian like character.

    During this period, the Etruscans began to take control of sea trade particularly in the Tyrrhenian sea, and the control of sea routes to Campania, where a strong Etruscan core settled around Capua and Salerno.

    The orientalization period was not unique to the Etruscans, and a similar trend of eastern influence was evident in the Greek cities of the Archaic age.

    With the increasing trade and the specialization of crafts, the application of new techniques, particularly in metal extraction and agriculture, the living standard improved. This corresponded to an exponential increase in demographic growth. The Etruscan aristocracy increased in power, authority and wealth. They were buried in rich tombs or necropolises next to cities such as Tarquinia, Caere, Vulci and Veii.

    Greek immigrants started to arrive and began to exert a significant influence in the art and culture of Etruria.

    It was also during this period that grapes were introduced to the Italian peninsula. Grape seeds found in early Etruscan grave sites in Chiusi, show that the predecessor of Chiante had arrived. Craters and other vessels of Greek design started to appear.

    The Orientalizing Period is generally taken as the period between the end of the 8th Century until the late 7th Century BCE. It is so called because of the eastern influence in art and artifacts. Typical of this period was the Regolini Galassi tomb at Caere, in which were found objects with obvious Egyptian and Eastern influence such as Ostrich eggs, Sphinxes, scarabs and lions with an Assyrian like character.

    During this period, the Etruscan began to take control of sea trade particularly in the Tyrrhenian sea, and the control of sea routes to Campania, where a strong Etruscan core settled around Capua and Salerno.

    The orientalization period was not unique to the Etruscan, and a similar trend of eastern influence was evident in the Greek cities of the Archaic age.

    Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and into Campania. Some small towns in the 6th century BC have disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbors. However, there exists no doubt that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar, albeit more aristocratic, to Magna Graecia in the south.

    The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the sixth century BC, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of France, Catalonia and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.

    Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of both the Etruscans and the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea.

    From the first half of the fifth century, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites.

    In the fourth century, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities.

    At the beginning of the 1st century BC, Rome annexed all the Etruscan territory.

    The institution of kingship was general. Many names of individual Etruscan kings are recorded, most of them in a historical vacuum, but with enough chronological evidence to show that kingship persisted in Etruscan city-culture long after it had been overthrown by the Greeks and at Rome,[1] where Etruscan kings were long remembered with suspicion and scorn. When the last king was appointed, at Veii, the other Etruscan cities were alienated, permitting the Romans to destroy Veii.[2] It is presumed that Etruscan kings were leaders of religious cult and in warfare. The paraphernalia of Etruscan kingship is familiar because it was inherited at Rome and adopted as symbols of the republican authority wielded by the consuls: the purple robe, the staff or scepter topped with an eagle, the folding cross-framed seat, and most prominent of all, the fasces carried by a magistrate, which preceded the king in public appearances.[3]

    The tradition by which the Etruscan cities could come together under a single leader was the annual council held at the sacred grove of the Fanum Voltumnae, the precise site of which has exercised scholars since the Renaissance. In times of no emergency, the position of praetor Etruriae, as Roman inscriptions express it, was no doubt largely ceremonial and concerned with cultus.


    The Etruscans: explore their history at the museum

    THE "OMBRA DELLA SERA"

    If you’re not familiar with ancient history, you might think this is a contemporary artwork by an eclectic artist who idealizes shape and ignores proportions.
    In reality this artifact, whose name is wrongly attributed to Gabriele D’Annunzio and “Shadow of the evening” in English, is not a unicum. It dates back to the 3rd century b.C., and it’s now a proper icon of the Etruscan time.
    It’s an elongated bronze statue in the plastic shape of the shadow of a human figure at dusk projected on the ground.

    There is no exact information on the date and place where this famous artwork was discovered.
    Anton Filippo Gori, a scholar from 1700s Florence, saw it in Florence in a small collection of the Buonarroti house and published a sketch of it in the book “Museum Etruscum” (1737). In it, Gori stated its provenance from Volterra, although there are always plenty of legends around the origins of such singular artifacts.
    The most famous story includes a French archaeologist who got caught in a thunderstorm while walking around Volterra. A farmer welcomed him in his house and let him sit next to the fireplace, while he kept the fire going with a long and tapered metal stick. One can only imagine the archaeologist’s surprise when he saw that the farmer’s poker actually was an Eruscan votive statue.

    After 1750 Mario Guarnacci, who was in contact with Florentine antiquarians, got the statue by either buying or trading it and included it in the collection which then became the central piece of the Guarnacci museum.
    One sure fact is that the statue was found in Volterra before 1737.

    The statue, despite its singular execution and dimensions, isn’t an artwork on its own but it’s part of a series of elongated ex-votos representing haruspices and gods which is well documented in central Italy, particularly in the inner Etruria and in Lazio.
    The precision detected in the facial features indicated an attempt at reproducing some exact features, which shows the influence of Greek portraiture from the 3rd and 2nd centuries b.C. The unconventional hairstyle on the statue also leads back to the same timeframe.

    Anyway, we can’t but place this piece in the big and rather vague group of votive objects, which also includes all those objects experts can’t find right explanations for.
    In his “Museum Etruscum”, Francesco Gori describes the subject of the Etruscan statue as a young god, maybe a spirit of the dead or Tagete, who was a naked male figure. However, this elongated body with an oval face, hollow eyes and a triangular nose framed by curly hair will remain nameless.

    THE SARCOPHAGUS OF THE SPOUSES

    Amongst the few terracotta urns in the museum, the lid of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses definitely stands out. This extremely suggestive sculpture is now, together with the “Ombra della Sera”, a symbol of the Guarnacci Museum.
    The lid depicts a married couple laying on a bed, the way people used to at banquets.

    Extreme technical skills can be detected in the realism behind the faces and the details of the clothing, which was also aided by the plasticity of the terracotta that was used, which is a material that allows for beautiful detailing.
    Dating this artefact has been hard, but a recent interpretation looks at a vast array of historical and ideological elements. Many details indicate that this artwork wasn’t a part of a standardized production, but rather a commission by someone who wanted to be represented as “old-fashioned”. We are lead to this conclusion by two factors: the discovery of an iconography of the couple at a banquet, which represented the importance of family and copies of which date back to the oldest period of production of urns (end of 3rd century-beginning of 2nd century b.C.), and the material itself, terracotta, which was also used in the first production phase.

    The faces of the two admittedly not so young spouses are extremely expressive, with their eyes meeting and the refined and detailed facial features.
    The married couple’s eyes is what leads us to explore the mysteries of the Etruscan people.

    THE COLLECTION OF ETRUSCAN URNS

    The Etruscan Museum Guarnacci is home to the biggest collection of urns in Italy. These humble but significant products of Etruscan craftsmanship are sort of a way to bridge the gap between the past and the present.
    They were re-used in the Middle Ages, then gathered and used as decor and construction materials during the Renaissance, and eventually re-discovered in the 18th century.

    Many Etruscan urns from Volterra are now scattered in museums around the world, such as the British Museum and the Louvre, as evidence of the Etruscan people.
    In its classic form of a vessel for the ashes of the dead, the Etruscan urn replaces the perishable vessel made out of leather or fabric with a long-lasting material such as alabaster, terracotta or stone. This evolution of the urns in Etruria goes hand in hand with the story of the Etrscan people itself, going from the early Iron Age to when the Romans took over.

    These urns were located in the Etruscan burial grounds, the necropolis. The area around Volterra is particularly rich in necropolis, but the only few tombs left are in the Necropoli dei Marmini.
    The production of urns with lids with a human shape started at the beginning of the 3rd century b.C. An older type of urn is the one in the shape of a house.
    The vast collection of urns starts on the ground floor of the Museum and continues on the upper floors.
    The urns are the most authentic examples of local artistic expression from the time between the 4th century b.C. and the start of the Roman Imperial Age.

    The urns are carved in tuff or alabaster, materials that come from Volterra’s countryside, and only some of them are molded with terracotta. Apart from the simpler ones in the shape of a house or a temple, the lid of the urn usually depicts the deceased laying on their left side on a bed of a banquet.

    In the case of men, the statue of the deceased would hold a vessel for libations or something to write on or with. Women, however, would hold objects such as mirrors, fans and pomegranates, which were the symbol of fertility. The statue’s head is proportionally way bigger than the body, and it emphasises the deceased’s facial features. Some of the lids were simply part of a mass production, others were proper portraits, where the realism would highlight the expressive power of the statue.

    The urn box is sometimes historiated, and the urns in the Guarnacci Museum, which are more than 600, are categorized according to the subject on the front of it.
    Many different patterns are used, the more simple ones depicting flowers, symbols, animals or scenes from the Etruscan everyday or religious life.

    The most interesting ones are undoubtedly the urns depicting mythological scenes. Despite having Greek origins, these scenes are so varied and include so many local elements, that they definitely express the Etruscan culture. Alabaster was sometimes used for the precision in the execution, which is very much visible in some mythological scenes, where this material allows the artist to make it look like the subjects are detached from the background.

    Some of the main themes found in the artworks on the urns are funerals and the passage to the underworld.
    Then there are many mythological scenes such as the legend of the Minotaur, the centaurs, the Calydonian boar, Perseus, the Theban Cycle and the Epic Cycle.
    This is a unique collection that allows us to explore and discover the mysteries of the Etruscan people.

    The evocative “modernity” of the elongated shape of the Ombra della Sera or the unsettling look of the two old spouses portrayed in the Urna degli Sposi (Italian for “Sarcophagus of the Spouses”) are worth your visit to the Guarnacci Museum, one of the oldest public museums in Europe.
    The beautiful “palazzo” hosting the exhibit on the Etruscan and Roman past of Volterra, the furniture in some of the rooms and some criteria of the exposition are also part of a particular way of making culture.

    As a matter of fact, visitors may feel like they are in a museum with two faces and two souls: an old one, visible in the rooms with old furniture and many objects placed next to each other just because they’re made out of the same material and a contemporary one, visible in more modern rooms, with only a few, significant items and their captions and information panels.
    The museum was set up in the mid-1700s, when experts started focussing on studying and researching Italy’s past, and when Volterra was a real cultural capital.

    It’s also one of the oldest and most important Etruscan museums in Italy. It gathers and conserves most of the items discovered in Volterra and the area around it.


    One of the most significant Etruscan discoveries in decades names female goddess Uni

    Inscribed surfaces of the stele already have revealed mention of the goddess Uni as well as a reference to the god Tina, the name of the supreme deity of the Etruscans. Credit: Mugello Valley Project

    Archaeologists translating a very rare inscription on an ancient Etruscan temple stone have discovered the name Uni—an important female goddess.

    The discovery indicates that Uni—a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place—may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

    The mention is part of a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone, said archaeologist Gregory Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

    Scientists on the research discovered the ancient stone embedded as part of a temple wall at Poggio Colla, a dig where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

    Now Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound slab—called a stele (STEE-lee)—to translate the text. It's very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

    "The location of its discovery—a place where prestigious offerings were made—and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character," said Adriano Maggiani, formerly Professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

    "It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary—a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space," said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.

    Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more. While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before, particularly since this discovery veers from others in that it's not a funerary text.

    The partially cleaned stele bears one of the longest Etruscan texts ever found, possibly spelling out ceremonial religious rituals. Credit: Mugello Valley Project

    The Mugello Valley archaeologists are announcing discovery of the goddess Uni at an exhibit in Florence on Aug. 27, "Scrittura e culto a Poggio Colla, un santuario etrusco nel Mugello," and in a forthcoming article in the scholarly journal Etruscan Studies.

    Text may specify the religious ritual for temple ceremonies dedicated to the goddess

    It's possible the text contains the dedication of the sanctuary, or some part of it, such as the temple proper, so the expectation is that it will reveal the early beliefs of a lost culture fundamental to western traditions.

    The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

    Etruscans once ruled Rome, influencing that civilization in everything from religion and government to art and architecture. A highly cultured people, Etruscans were also very religious and their belief system permeated all aspects of their culture and life.

    Inscription may reveal data to understand concepts and rituals, writing and language

    Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves, thus funerary in nature.

    "We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades," Warden said. "It's a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language."

    Credit: Southern Methodist University

    Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date.

    One section of the text refers to "tina?," a reference to Tina, the name of the supreme deity of the Etruscans. Tina was equivalent to ancient Greece's Zeus or Rome's Jupiter.

    Once an imposing and monumental symbol of authority

    The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority, said Warden, president and professor of archaeology at Franklin University Switzerland.

    The text is being studied by two noted experts on the Etruscan language, including Maggiani, who is an epigrapher, and Rex Wallace, Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is a comparative linguist.

    A hologram of the stele will be shown at the Florence exhibit, as conservation of the stele is ongoing at the conservation laboratories of the Archaeological Superintendency in Florence. Digital documentation is being done by experts from the architecture department of the University of Florence. The sandstone is heavily abraded and chipped, so cleaning should allow scholars to read the inscription.

    Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.

    Besides SMU, other collaborating institutions at Mugello Valley Archaeological Project include Franklin and Marshall College, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at The University of Texas at Austin, The Open University (UK), and Franklin University Switzerland.


    Archaeologists Find Rare Stele Inscribed in Etruscan

    Sometimes, our planet can seem like a really big, really cool sandbox. Archaeologists digging in Italy’s Mugello Valley have unearthed an enormous stone tablet bearing what appears to be a rare Etruscan sacred text. The team presented their discovery to the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency earlier this month.

    The Etruscans were an ancient people who lived in what is today Italy from about the 8th to the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE. At the height of their power, the highly religious Etruscans ruled over the Romans. Eventually, their civilization was assimilated into, and gradually overshadowed by, the Roman republic.

    The Mugello Valley excavations have been in progress for more than two decades now, and the dig has uncovered objects both mundane and sacred, including pottery, statues, jewelry, coins, and the earliest known European depiction of a woman giving birth.What they haven’t found are many sacred texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist—the team has found other ritual artifacts—just that they didn’t last. “Inscriptions of more than a few words, on permanent materials, are rare for the Etruscans, who tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets,” Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa said in a press statement.

    So you can imagine the researchers' excitement when they found a 500-pound sandstone slab, or stele, covered in writing and buried in the foundations of an ancient temple. The stone is nearly four feet tall, and is carved with at least 70 legible letters and punctuation . Likely dating to the 6th century BCE, the stele was re-used in the temple, which is a slightly younger structure.

    “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to Western traditions,” said principal investigator Gregory Warden.

    “We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words,” Warden said. “But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site.”

    Because so few examples of Etruscan writing exist, “any text, especially a longer one, is an exciting addition to our knowledge,” said archaeologist Ingrid Edlund-Berry. “It is very interesting that the stele was found within the walls of the buildings at the site, thus suggesting that it was re-used, and that it represents an early phase at the site.”

    All images are courtesy of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.


    Important text discovered at archeological site in Italy may shed light on Etruscan deities

    Archaeologists working on the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project in Italy have discovered what may be a rare sacred text in the Etruscan language that is likely to yield rich details about Etruscan worship of a god or goddess. The project is co-directed by Dr. Michael Thomas, who is also director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. The lengthy text is inscribed on a large 6th century B.C. sandstone slab that was uncovered from an Etruscan temple. A new religious artifact discovery is rare, and most Etruscan discoveries typically have been grave and funeral objects.

    “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” said archaeologist Gregory Warden, Thomas’s co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project.

    Scholars in the field predict the stele (STEE-lee), as such slabs are called, will yield a wealth of new knowledge about the lost culture of the Etruscans. The slab, weighing about 500 pounds and measuring nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks, likely with never-seen-before words.

    The Etruscan civilization once ruled Rome and influenced Romans on everything from religion to government to art and architecture. Considered one of the most religious people of the ancient world, Etruscan life was permeated by religion, and ruling magistrates also exercised religious authority.

    The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority. Thomas supervised the removal of the stele and discovered the inscription while washing the stele in the field. He presented the discovery at the Annual Meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Francisco this past January.

    “The size and shape of the stone was our first clue that we had found something unique,” said Thomas. “The moment we recognized letters on the stone, we knew we had made a profound discovery.”

    The Mugello Valley dig, specifically the Poggio Colla site, is northeast of Florence, Italy. The slab would have been connected to the early sacred life of the sanctuary there. Thomas’ research focuses on the architecture at the site.

    “Though we have several phases of construction, the earliest structure at the site was a simple timber-framed oval hut. This would have been followed by a large temple set on a stone podium with large stone column bases of the Tuscan Doric type,” said Thomas. “It was within that stone podium that we discovered the stele.”

    Conservation and study of the stele, with full photogrammetry and laser scanning to document all aspects of the conservation process and all details of the inscribed surfaces, is underway in the next few months at the conservation laboratories of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency in Florence by experts from the architecture department of the University of Florence. The sandstone, likely from a local source, is heavily abraded and chipped, with one side reddened, possibly from undergoing burning in antiquity. Cleaning will allow scholars to read the inscription. The text will be studied and published by a noted expert on the Etruscan language, Rex Wallace, Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

    In two decades of digging, Mugello Valley Archaeological Project has unearthed objects about Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. This wealth of material helps document the ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century B.C., including gold jewelry, coins, the earliest scene of childbirth in western European art and, in the past two seasons, four 6th-century bronze statuettes.

    Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, said the stele discovery will advance knowledge of Etruscan history, literacy and religious practices.

    “Inscriptions of more than a few words on permanent materials are rare for the Etruscans, who tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets,” Turfa said. “This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 B.C. Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure.”

    It would be a rare discovery to identify the Etruscan god or goddess to which the sanctuary was dedicated.

    “Apart from the famous seaside shrine at Pyrgi, with its inscribed gold plaques, very few Etruscan sanctuaries can be so conclusively identified,” Turfa said. “A study of the names of the dedicants will yield rich data on a powerful society where the nobility, commoners and even freed slaves could offer public vows and gifts.”

    Etruscans were a highly cultured people, but very little of their writing has been preserved, mostly just short funerary inscriptions with names and titles, said archaeologist Ingrid Edlund-Berry, a professor emerita at The University of Texas at Austin and consulting scholar at Poggio Colla.

    “So any text, especially a longer one, is an exciting addition to our knowledge,” said Edlund-Berry, an expert in Etruscan civilization. “It is very interesting that the stele was found within the walls of the buildings at the site, thus suggesting that it was re-used, and that it represents an early phase at the site.”

    The Poggio Colla site is in northern Etruria. Most inscriptions have come from centers further south, Edlund-Berry said.

    Thomas has worked at the site since the first season in 1995. The project’s field school has trained numerous UT undergrads and graduate students over the last two decades. Besides the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at The University of Texas at Austin, other collaborating institutions at Mugello Valley Archaeological Project include Franklin and Marshall College, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, The Open University (UK), Franklin University Switzerland and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

    Photos: Rex Wallace (UMASS Amherst) and Alessandro Nocentini study the inscription on the stele uncovered at an Etruscan archeological site in Poggio Colla.

    The stele was was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years.

    Michael Thomas, left, discovers the inscription on the slab from the Etruscan monument.


    Archaeologists Have Discovered A Brand New Ancient God

    Researchers in Italy have spent the last several months translating an ancient text recovered from a 2,500-year-old Etruscan temple, and believe they may have stumbled upon the name of a previously unheard of goddess. The inscription makes reference to a character named Uni, who the archaeologists say could have been the patroness of a fertility cult.

    The text is among the largest ever discovered in the Etruscan language, and was inscribed into a 225-kilogram (500 pounds) stone slab – known as a stele – buried beneath a temple at the Poggio Colla sanctuary, once a key Etruscan settlement.

    Occupying much of northern Italy from 400 to 800 BCE, the Etruscans are attributed with establishing many of the major cities that later become prominent centers of activity during the Roman Empire. However, because very few examples of Etruscan writing have been recovered, little is known about their way of life or belief system.

    As such, lead researcher Gregory Warren has described the stele as “one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” since it provides some key insights into the ancient civilization’s language and practices.

    The stele contains one of the largest Etruscan texts ever discovered. Mugello Valley Project

    Other artifacts unearthed at Poggio Colla include a ceramic-based depiction of a birth scene, leading scientists to speculate that the temple may have had connections to a fertility cult. Warren and his colleagues suspect that the stone slab may contain the names of the deities to whom the temple was dedicated, and therefore believe that Uni may have been the site’s titular divinity.

    Containing a total of 120 different characters, the stele has helped archaeologists learn more about Etruscan language and grammar. However, after more than two and a half millennia of erosion, much of the text has faded to the point where it is barely visible. Researchers have therefore spent the past several months carefully examining and restoring the inscription using photogrammetry and laser scanning, and are due to present their findings on August 27 at an exhibit in Florence.

    According to Warren, the discovery “will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”