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Etruscan Tomb Excavation Unearths Ancient Greek Cup

Etruscan Tomb Excavation Surfaced Ancient Greek Cup
Etruscan Tomb Excavation Surfaced Ancient Greek Cup. Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti Paesaggio Etruria Meridionale

Archaeologists in Italy recently uncovered ten remarkable Etruscan tombs in the Monterozzi necropolis, where they also found ancient Greek artefacts such as Euboic drinking cups.

Carried out in what the archaeologists called an “emergency campaign” to save the complex, the finds date back to between the Villanovan and Archaic periods (8th-5th centuries BC).

They are located just a few dozen meters from the Tomb of the Bulls and the Tomb of the Augurs. After the first restoration work was completed on the objects found there, some of the spectacular discoveries made in one of the tombs were finally revealed.

The Soprintendenza dell Belle Arti Paesaggio Etruria Meridionale, the governmental authority in charge of all archaeological excavations, stated that the excavations had been necessary in order to shore up a series of cavities that had opened up as a result of excessive plowing on private land. Since the area was adjacent to an already known archaeological site, measures were taken as soon as possible to shore up the area.

Etruscan Tombs Looted

Unfortunately, the Soprintendenza noted, as so often happens in the case of burials that are so shallow, and accessible from the road, all the surrounding area had already been violated in the past. Grave goods were taken from some of the tombs, sometimes, the authority stated, “with devastating effects.” after vaults and walls had collapsed.

Nevertheless, the archaeologists, who were working as part of the EOS ARC company, were fortunate: in that one of the burial complexes, the one closest to the road itself had indeed been looted in ancient times. But luckily for the archaeologists, these grave robbers were only interested in precious stones and jewelry – not, as it happens, in ceramics and other grave goods, which are of equal or perhaps even more archaeological interest.

The Vital context of the burials was, therefore, able to be determined and examined by the archaeologists, using the vases and other objects that were part of the burials.

Daniele Federico Maras, an official of the Superintendence for the territory of Tarquinia, explains “The tomb dates back to the first half of the seventh century BC. It is of the ‘twin’ type, i.e. consisting of two independent chambers side by side, almost identical to each other and open to the south-west on as many open vestibules, which can be accessed via a steep staircase.

“The roof of both chambers is of the slit type, with an ogive vault carved into the rock, closed at the top by a series of nephrite slabs, while along the left wall is a bed, carved in stone which, in the case of the northernmost chamber, is decorated with carved legs”.

The doors of the tombs had been sealed with slabs of nephrite, which had unfortunately been broken by the grave robbers so that they could gain access to the tombs – however, in a very unusual twist, they had been carefully closed again after they had been plundered, Maras says.

Perhaps this was part of a belated show of respect for the dead – or hoping that there wouldn’t be divine retribution for the desecration.

However, the looters failed to break through the slab protecting the north chamber, prompting the looters to also remove two blocks from the roof of the tomb, causing it to collapse over time, the Soprintendenza says.

Working beneath the remains of the Gemina Tomb, sifting through the loose earth, archaeologists collected such treasures as fragments of glazed impasto vases, sometimes with incised decorations or configurations and a clay statuette depicting a weeping woman.

Geometric Vases and Ancient Greek Euboic Cups

In addition, they also came upon several Etruscan-geometric engraved and painted bucchero vases, including jugs decorated by the man known as the Painter of the Palms, as well as ancient Greek Euboic cups.

ancient greek cup kylix
Ancient Greek Drinking Cup “Kylix” was an important component of the symposium, which was a ritualized drinking party enjoyed by elite Greek men. credit: Met Museum / Public Domain

Some Artefacts Stolen From the Tombs by Grave Robbers

Sadly, they also found the fragments of a thin sheet of gold, which the archaeologists believe was all that remained of a thicker coating of the precious metal, which the ancient grave robbers had indeed stolen.

“All the material was found shattered”, Maras says, “probably intentionally broken by the looters in order to look for imaginary treasures hidden in the vases. Luckily, however, the fragments were left on the ground and are now finally being restored.” They will all be displayed before the public as soon as possible.

The Gemima Tomb will be left exposed at the conclusion of the excavations, according to the Soprintendenza, which added that a roof will be added over the site so that the entire tomb complex can be viewed in its context by visitors in the future.
In the meantime, it says, the long, difficult conservation work on the finds continues, at the end of which process they will be turned over to the authorities so that the people of Tarquinia and the rest of the world may enjoy their beauty.

Superintendent Margherita Eichberg noted in the announcement that “The emergency intervention was necessary to remedy the damage, but now, thanks to the commitment of the archaeologists of the Superintendency, the emergency has been transformed into an opportunity for knowledge and cultural promotion.”

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