Oops! Etruscan Warrior Prince Really a Princess
A 2,600-year-old tomb unearthed in Tuscany, thought to hold a warrior prince actually contains the remains of a middle-age warrior princess holding a lance.
Italian archaeologists have unearthed a 2,600-year-old intact Etruscan tomb that promises to reveal new depths of one of the ancient world’s most fascinating and mysterious cultures.
The unique burial was found in Tarquinia, a hill town about 50 miles northwest of Rome famous for its Etruscan art treasures. The tomb was just a few feet away from the so-called Queen's Tomb, pictured here.
Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab, the rock-cut tomb in appeared promising even before opening it, just by dint of its location next to known royal tombs.
After 2,600 years, the heavy stone slab in front of the tomb was removed.
In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while brooches, on the chest indicated that the man was probably once dressed with a mantle.
At his feet stood a dish used during the funeral meal. Food remains were still there, after 2,600 years.
Near the dish with the food remains stood a large bronze basin, possibly used to wash the hands after the meal.
A stone table directly across from the man might contain the incinerated remains of another person.
Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment.
A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor.
Last month, archaeologists announced a stunning find: a completely sealed tomb cut into the rock in Tuscany, Italy.
The untouched tomb held what looked like the body of an Etruscan prince holding a spear, along with the ashes of his wife. Several news outlets reported on the discovery of the 2,600-year-old warrior prince.
But the grave held one more surprise.
A bone analysis has revealed the warrior prince was actually a princess, as Judith Weingarten, an alumna of the British School at Athens noted on her blog, Zenobia: Empress of the East. (See Photos of the Unsealed Etruscan Tomb)
Historians know relatively little about the Etruscan culture that flourished in what is now Italy until its absorption into the Roman civilization around 400 B.C. Unlike their better-known counterparts, the ancient Greeks and the Romans, the Etruscans left no historical documents, so their graves provide a unique insight into their culture.
The new tomb, unsealed by archaeologists in Tuscany, was found in the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia, a UNESCO World Heritage site where more than 6,000 graves have been cut into the rock.
"The underground chamber dates back to the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Inside, there are two funerary beds carved into the rock," Alessandro Mandolesi, the University of Turin archaeologist who excavated the site, wrote in an email.
When the team removed the sealed slab blocking the tomb, they saw two large platforms. On one platform lay a skeleton bearing a lance. On another lay a partially incinerated skeleton. The team also found several pieces of jewelry and a bronze-plated box, which may have belonged to a woman, according to the researchers.
"On the inner wall, still hanging from a nail, was an aryballos [a type of flask] oil-painted in the Greek-Corinthian style," Mandolesi said.
Initially, the lance suggested the skeleton on the biggest platform was a male warrior, possibly an Etruscan prince. The jewelry likely belonged to the second body, the warrior prince’s wife.
But bone analysis revealed the prince holding the lance was actually a 35- to 40-year-old woman, whereas the second skeleton belonged to a man.
Given that, what do archaeologists make of the spear?
"The spear, most likely, was placed as a symbol of union between the two deceased," Mandolesi told Viterbo News 24 on Sept. 26.
Weingarten doesn't believe the symbol of unity explanation. Instead, she thinks the spear shows the woman's high status.
Their explanation is "highly unlikely," Weingarten told LiveScience. "She was buried with it next to her, not him."
The mix-up highlights just how easily both modern and old biases can color the interpretation of ancient graves.
In this instance, the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks and Romans may have skewed the view of the tomb. Whereas Greek women were cloistered away, Etruscan women, according to Greek historian Theopompus, were more carefree, working out, lounging nude, drinking freely, consorting with many men and raising children who did not know their fathers' identities.
Instead of using objects found in a grave to interpret the sites, archaeologists should first rely on bone analysis or other sophisticated techniques before rushing to conclusions, Weingarten said.
"Until very recently, and sadly still in some countries, sex determination is based on grave goods. And that, in turn, is based almost entirely on our preconceptions. A clear illustration is jewelry: We associate jewelry with women, but that is nonsense in much of the ancient world," Weingarten said. "Guys liked bling, too."
This article originally appeared on LiveScience.com. More from LiveScience.com:
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