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Excavations are bringing us closer to one of the ancient world’s most fascinating cultures

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The Queen’s Tomb is the first major Etruscan burial to be excavated in the past 25 years. After uncovering the monumental staircase, archaeologists will continue to dig into the mound to explore the rooms and burial chamber inside. (Pasquale Sorrentino) This house found in 2010 is the first Etruscan domestic property with standing walls to be excavated. (Rossella Lorenzi)

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Found in 2010 in a sanctuary at the site of Poggio Colla near Florence, this pendant is an example of the Etruscans’ extraordinary goldsmithing skill. (Courtesy Alexis Castor)

They taught the French to make wine and the Romans to build roads, and they introduced writing to Europe, but the Etruscans have long been considered one of antiquity’s great enigmas. No one knew exactly where they came from. Their language was alien to their neighbors. Their religion included the practice of divination, performed by priests who examined animals’ entrails to predict the future. Much of our knowledge about Etruscan civilization comes from ancient literary sources and from tomb excavations, many of which were carried out decades ago. But all across Italy, archaeologists are now creating a much richer picture of Etruscan social structure, trade relationships, economy, daily lives, religion, and language than has ever been possible. Excavations at sites including the first monumental tomb to be explored in over two decades, a rural sanctuary filled with gold artifacts, the only Etruscan house with intact walls and construction materials still preserved, and an entire seventh-century B.C. miner’s town, are revealing that the Etruscans left behind more than enough evidence to show that perhaps, they aren’t such a mystery after all.

Rossella Lorenzi is a freelance writer living in Italy.

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