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Mugello Valley Project

Archaeologists Find Rare Stele Inscribed in Etruscan

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Mugello Valley Project

Sometimes, our planet can seem like a really big, really cool sandbox. Archaeologists digging in Italy’s Mugello Valley have unearthed an enormous stone tablet bearing what appears to be a rare Etruscan sacred text. The team presented their discovery to the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency earlier this month.

The Etruscans were an ancient people who lived in what is today Italy from about the 8th to the 3rd or 2nd centuries BCE. At the height of their power, the highly religious Etruscans ruled over the Romans. Eventually, their civilization was assimilated into, and gradually overshadowed by, the Roman republic. 

The Mugello Valley excavations have been in progress for more than two decades now, and the dig has uncovered objects both mundane and sacred, including pottery, statues, jewelry, coins, and the earliest known European depiction of a woman giving birth.What they haven’t found are many sacred texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist—the team has found other ritual artifacts—just that they didn’t last. “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,” Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa said in a press statement. 

So you can imagine the researchers' excitement when they found a 500-pound sandstone slab, or stele, covered in writing and buried in the foundations of an ancient temple. The stone is nearly four feet tall, and is carved with at least 70 legible letters and punctuation. Likely dating to the 6th century BCE, the stele was re-used in the temple, which is a slightly younger structure.     

“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 principal investigator Gregory Warden.

“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.”

Because so few examples of Etruscan writing exist, “any text, especially a longer one, is an exciting addition to our knowledge,” said archaeologist Ingrid Edlund-Berry. “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.”

All images are courtesy of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project. 

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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