Major Tomb Discovery
Illuminates Italy's Etruscans -
'The Lost People'
The discovery of 280 tombs at Cerveteri, 30 miles north of Rome on the Lazio coast may shed new light on one of Europe's most mysterious lost people, the Etruscans."The entire Etruscan history is hidden in these tombs," says Maria Antonietta Rizzo, the archaeologist responsible for the digging. "They date from the Iron Age in the 9th century B.C. to the Roman age in the 3rd century B.C."
Living in a loose confederation of towns scattered from the Po River in the north to Campania in the south, the Etruscans forged Italy's most sophisticated civilization before the Romans.
Yet mystery shrouds their history. Defeated by the Romans in the 4th century A.D., they left no literature to record their culture: Nobody knows where they came from and only traces of their puzzling, non-Indoeuropean language survive. Only the richly decorated tombs they left behind provide a glimpse into their world.
"Finding 280 tombs was a blessing," says Rizzo. "Our digging suggests that Cerveteri was really the most important town in the Etruria around the 7th to 6th century B.C."
The importance of the town, which had three ports and a population of 30,000, is testified by the vast "city of the dead" built outside its walls, which archaeologists have been excavating since the 19th century.
The newly uncovered tombs were found when finance police spotted three grave robbers, or "tombaroli," near an area next to the vast necropolis.
Digging in the tombarolis' target for two years, Rizzo has uncovered 200 tombs in an area known as the "small lake," and another 80 in an area called the "plateau of marine waves."
The tombs date from the Iron Age. Some hide urns where Etruscans kept the ashes of their dead. Others contain finds ranging from bone fragments to artisan jewelry, bronze and gold cups, vases, amulets and hundreds of small amber statues in oriental style depicting naked women.
"Clearly, at Cerveteri the Etruscans were active in commerce with the Baltic countries and Greece," explains Rizzo. "They exported metal ores, and in exchange, they received ceramics and artifacts finely decorated."
The 80 tombs found in the area date from the 7th to the 3rd century B.C. and include 16 tumuli -- architectural jewels reserved to important families -- and "cube" tombs lining the "streets of the dead."
"This is a great discovery. It really provides a precious insight into the Etruscan world," says Marina Martelli, who teaches Etruscology at Viterbo University.
He adds, "This necropolis, the biggest of the ancient Mediterranean, is important because it mirrors the cities of the living, with tombs modeled on the long-vanished Etruscan houses."
By Rosella Lorenzi, Discovery News Brief