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Etruscan Text Find Volume 52 Number 5, September/October 1999
by Angela M.H. Schuster

A letter-sized bronze tablet bearing 32 lines of text written in ancient Etruscan has added greatly to our understanding of this little-known language. Discovered in Cortona, Italy, by a building contractor--and subsequently turned over to Tuscany's superintendent of archaeology, Francesco Nicosia--the 2,300-year-old document, known as the Tabula Cortonensis, appears to be a contract, possibly a real-estate agreement, drawn up between two families. The tablet, which bears one of less than a dozen surviving lengthy texts, was folded and broken into eight pieces, one of which is now missing

"While the text consists primarily of names, parties to the agreement and witnesses to the transaction," says Larissa Bonfante of New York University, "it is extremely valuable both for its length and the fact that it adds 27 new words to a known vocabulary of about 500 words."

According to Luciano Agostiniani of Perugia University, who with Nicosia is working on a study and translation of the document, the text also contains several "new" grammatical constructions and verbs whose conjugation has until now been unclear.

"Trying to understand Etruscan from the few examples we have," says Giuseppe Della Fina, director of the Archaeological Museum in Orvieto, "has been like trying to learn Italian from looking at gravestones. Each new text dramatically increases our chances of one day deciphering the ancient language." A translation of the text will be published later this year.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America