Rare find by UB archaeologist gives new insight into Etruscan life under Rome

BUFFALO, NY – The recent salvage excavation of a 2nd-century BCE burial site in Italy’s southern Tuscany region offers unprecedented insight into Etruscan identity that survived the Roman conquest of Etruria, according to findings from a new paper by a University at Buffalo Roman archeology expert.

Analysis of funerary objects (objects buried with the bodies) and burial rituals of the necropolis, one of the few sites spared from looters in antiquity or modernity, suggests how the many entrenched and distinct features of the Etruscan population survived in the presence of the dominant Roman power and its associated law.

These persistent and complex Etruscan traditions continued for more than two centuries after the Roman conquest in such a way as to shape the social, cultural and economic habits of the territory until the violent destruction of the small rural community during the social wars.

“These results show us how we should speak more of cultural and social osmosis rather than subordination of one population to another,” says Alessandro Sebastiani, PhD, author of the paper and associate professor in the Classics Department of the University at Buffalo.

“The analysis reveals the interesting and sophisticated relationship between the Etruscans and the Romans, where Etruscan communities survived and adapted to the Roman world.”

UB’s Classics Department, under Sebastiani and in partnership with Cooper Union and Michigan State University, began work in 2017. The Interconnected Mobility of People and Economies Along the Ombrone River Project ( IMPERO) would eventually cover two historic sites in the Tuscan municipality of Civitella Pagnico.

“The last five years have produced some exciting discoveries, but this season has been particularly good,” says Sebastiani.

And much of the work of 2021 and 2022 results from good fortune.

Sebastiani says archaeologists today often find what grave robbers left behind, usually pits of broken pottery. The current research site is however on private property (its exact location has not been made public).

A building project years ago revealed traces of a settlement, which researchers investigated at the time but never published. This discovery was largely forgotten until the owner of the property, an amateur archaeologist who assisted Sebastiani in previous excavations, contacted to see what could be done on site.

“He told me there was something on his land that could have potential value,” Sebastiani explains. “Can you come and check? »

IMPERO therefore went to Podere Cannicci, a part of Tuscany where the Etruscans were not supposed to have dwelt and settled before. The excavation would prove otherwise, uncovering a Late Etruscan and Republican Roman sanctuary with a village that provided goods to near-rural communities.

“We opened three late Etruscan tombs that were totally intact, which sheds new light on the societal representation of families living and working in the village,” says Sebastiani.

“Because these sites were looted for gold, it is quite rare to find one intact, with all grave goods present after more than 2,200 years, including gold earrings, gold, bronze rings with the representation of Hercules, iron strigils (a tool for cleaning the body) and fine pottery.

“The absence of looting has guaranteed the exceptional state of preservation of these finds.”

The archaeobotanical analysis of the seeds and other organic matter discovered helps to reconstruct the ancient landscape and the surrounding environment of the site. The DNA analysis of the skeletal remains recovered during the excavations is carried out in collaboration with the University of Siena.

“The project provides new pieces to the complex puzzle of historic settlements in Etruria during the transitional period of Roman conquest, their development into the imperial political system, Long Late Antiquity and the rise of medieval society.

“It’s very exciting,” said Sebastiani.

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