Nav: Home

Text in lost language may reveal god or goddess worshipped by Etruscans at ancient temple

March 29, 2016

Archaeologists 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 lengthy text is inscribed on a large 6th century BCE sandstone slab that was uncovered from an Etruscan temple.

A new religious artifact is rare. 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, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

The slab, weighing about 500 pounds and nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks, said Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the 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 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.

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, Warden said.

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, Warden said.

"We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language," said Warden, president and professor of archaeology at Franklin University Switzerland. "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."

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.

"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." 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 BCE, 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 BCE. 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, professor emerita, The University of Texas at Austin.

"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.
-end-
The stele was officially reported during a scientific exhibit of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency starting March 19, "Shadow of the Etruscans," in Prato, Italy.

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.

SMUResearch.com on Twitter, http://twitter.com/smuresearch.

For more information, http://www.smuresearch.com.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see http://www.smu.edu.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7664.

Southern Methodist University

Related God Articles:

Religious believers think God values lives of out-group members more than they do
In a new paper, which will appear in print in an upcoming special issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science, Michael Pasek, Jeremy Ginges, and colleagues find that, across religious groups in Fiji and Israel, religious believers see God as encouraging people to treat others in a more universal, or equal, manner.
Experiencing awe from science influences beliefs about God
Though many Americans perceive science and religion as incompatible, a study from the ASU Department of Psychology found how people engage with science can change how they think about God -- and even promote belief in God.
Arts & Medicine: Video, articles look back at 1978 novel 'The House of God'
The 1978 novel 'The House of God' is a fictional account of the internship experience of Samuel Shem, the pen name of Stephen Bergman, at Beth Israel Hospital in 1973-1974.
God doesn't play dice -- does cancer?
Colorado study suggests that changes to the tissue ecosystem and not necessarily mutations allows growth of cancer.
Belief in the 'prosperity gospel' does not turn people into successful entrepreneurs
Belief in the 'Prosperity Gospel' -- that God financially blesses faithful followers -- does not turn individuals into successful entrepreneurs.
Experiences of 'ultimate reality' or 'God' confer lasting benefits to mental health
In a survey of thousands of people who reported having experienced personal encounters with God, Johns Hopkins researchers report that more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists shed that label after their encounter, regardless of whether it was spontaneous or while taking a psychedelic.
Women more likely to take Bible literally, but that may be tied to intimacy, not gender
Women are more likely than men to believe the Bible is literally true, but a recent Baylor University study finds this may have more to do with how people relate to God than it does gender.
Friending God increases purpose in life in the socially disconnected
Religious people who lack friends and purpose in life turn to God to fill those voids, according to new University of Michigan research.
32-year Australian study reveals steep decline in student belief that God created humans
Australian university students give far more credit than the previous generation to the science of human evolution and far less to creationism or divine guidance, according to a landmark new study.
UNC-Chapel Hill researchers ask Americans 'What does God look like?'
A team of psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have used a new technique to construct what a large sample of 511 American Christians think God looks like.
More God News and God Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.