Archaeologists unearth rare Etruscan text at Italy site

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Researchers at the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project’s Poggio Colla site in Italy unearthed a slab of stone containing ancient text in the Etruscan language. Professor Michael Thomas is the co-director of the project and has been working on the site for 21 years.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Thomas

Archaeologists uncovered a slab of stone containing rare text in the ancient language of Etruscan north of Florence, Italy, on the Poggio Colla site.  

Michael Thomas, professor and director of UT’s Center for the Study of Ancient Italy, is co-director of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project where the slab was found, and has been working on this site for 21 years.

“This is our last year of excavation, so it was a huge find,” Thomas said. “Inscriptions of that length are very rare, and it’s very rare to find something like that in a sanctuary setting.”

The inscribed stone, or any other artifact made by the Etruscans, gives us primary evidence for how a people created a piece of writing and what it may have meant to them, classics professor emeritus Ingrid Edlund-Berry said.

“It is by studying objects like this stone that we can reconstruct a whole period of history for which we have very little writing but where the people built cities, traded and traveled, created art and practiced their religion,” Edlund-Berry said. 

The slab was found within the foundation of a podium of a temple. Thomas said only a handful of people in the world can read Etruscan.   

As a teacher, Thomas said it’s essential to expose students to an archaeological site and study these things first hand.

“You’re digging it up and learning about it and its immediate contact,” Thomas said.

Artifacts and the pursuit of understanding them hold up a mirror to the contemporary world, studio art senior Connor Frew said.

“By looking into the objects of the past, we can generate historical narratives from new perspectives and hope to give agency to those that previously had none,” Frew said. 

Thomas said collections of gold jewelry, a collection of 100 silver Roman coins and all sorts of bronze statuettes have been found at the site. The length of the text on the stone makes it valuable, Edlund-Berry said. She said there are only a few longer texts that give the dates of a calendar, tombstones or contracts between families to clarify property ownership.

“In short, the inscribed stone from Poggio Colla is an important part of the puzzle that allows us to imagine what life was like in ancient Etruria about 2,500 years ago,” Edlund-Berry said.