Skeletal remains found last month in an untouched Etruscan tomb likely belonged to an aristocratic woman (not a prince, as earlier reported) buried alongside a spear and her sewing needles.

Analysis revealed that a small bronze box found beside the skeleton in Tarquinia contain the needles -- and some thread.

"X-rays showed the perfectly sealed box contains at least five needles, some threads remains and perhaps a sewing reel," Alfonsina Russo, Superintendent archaeologist for Southern Etruria, told Discovery News.

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The precious box was found at the feet of the skeleton, along with a large bronze basin and a smaller dish.

According to University of Turin Alessandro Mandolesi, director of the excavation, it was produced by recycling parts of an older artifact, possibly an 8th-7th-century BC shield. It was probably passed down generations until it reached the noble woman.

"This object and its contents identifies the woman as an embroiderer. It is well known the Etruscans were skilled in textile activities. Indeed, several tombs in Tarquinia feature frescoes depicting finely embroidered draperies," Russo added.

A fun-loving and eclectic people, the Etruscans began to flourish around 900 B.C., and dominated much of Italy for five centuries. During the fifth century B.C., as the Romans grew in power, they began to decline. By 300-100 B.C., their civilization eventually became absorbed into the Roman empire.

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Since their puzzling, non-Indo-European language was virtually extinguished (they left no literature to document their society), the Etruscans have long been considered one of antiquity's great enigmas.Much of what we know about them comes from their cemeteries. Only the richly decorated tombs they left behind have provided clues to fully reconstruct their history.

Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab for 2,600 years, the small vaulted chamber also contained the partially incinerated remains of another individual.

The real Etruscan warrior prince could rest on the stone bed on the right. Anthropological examination suggested the partially incinerated remains might belong to a male aged between 20-30 years. Rossella Lorenzi

Anthropological examination suggested the remains might belong to the real warrior prince -- a male aged between 20-30 years. It also confirmed the skeleton's female gender.

Indeed, it was normal for the Etruscans to have a burial for a woman, while the warrior was cremated, as a sign of respect.

The location of the newly discovered tomb on the flank of an imposing mound, the Queen Tomb, explains the aristocratic status of both the woman and the incinerated male, said the archaeologists.

Dating to the 7th century B.C., the mound is the largest among the more than 6,000 rock cut tombs (200 of them are painted) that make up the necropolis in Tarquinia. The closeness to the imposing Queen Tomb, in an area that would have been off limits to ordinary people, suggests the tomb’s occupants were somehow related to the high status elite class of Tarquinia.

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According to Mandolesi, the role of the spear, which prompted conjectures about the existence of an Etruscan "warrior princess," can be explained by looking at similar examples in Etruscan and Latin tombs from the same age, the so-called Orientalizing period (due to the influence on the Etruscans from the Eastern Mediterranean.)

"The spear was placed along the woman's body as a symbol of union with the incinerated male. It highlighted her aristocratic status and the close family relationship with the cremated remains," Mandolesi told Discovery News.

Unlike women in ancient Greece and Rome, Etruscan ladies had a key role in society. Exquisitely dressed, they actively participated in public life, enjoying equal status and dignity with men.

As the digging season closed, Mandolesi and colleagues have begun studying and analyzing the grave's contents to try answer several intriguing questions.

"It's a great find. It certainly requires more research and study," Mandolesi said.