The Etruscans are well known in Italy for 3 things- importing Greek/Phoenician/Egyptian influence to Italy, a language that is not Indo-European (i.e. not related to any other language in Europe today) and tomb building on an unprecedented scale, in terms of quality and quantity. We're talking completely painted buildings built underground for one or two people, or for multiple occupants placed there (or interred) over a long period of time; essentially "houses of the dead". We know that the Etruscan families paid close attention to their family linages; later on in the 4th and 3rd centuries there are well documented accounts of high status Etruscan families marking on their stone coffins that they were descended from kings or other prominent members of society. Although these tombs are too early to be related to high-status families in this way, we may be seeing the emergence of this practice (albeit without any writing on any coffins). Furthermore, unlike today where a huge forest has overgrown around the hillside of Marsiliana, the hills would have had virtually no tree cover at all, which may have been important for assessing the landscape in ancient times.
The casa site, which is near the top of one of the hills to the south of Marsiliana, is believed to be an Etruscan site of the 6-5th century BC (like a Roman villa but smaller) (Humphrey, Kacorzyk, Pallechi and Santoro 2011), which, upon discovery a few years ago, contained an entire layer of amphora sherds across the whole casa (herein referred to as anfore). As a result, it is known as the Casa del Anfore (House of the Amphorae). Unoriginal as it may sound, the site itself is actually very unique, and it is the largest Etruscan period structure that has been found in the area. It would also have had a dominating view of the sea, since back in the day the plains below would have been much closer to the sea, although evidence suggests that the Etruscans were capable of reclaiming the land from the sea. Meanwhile, the landscape is dotted with smaller houses (often unexcavated) and tombs. The necropolis of Macchiabuia (the second site) is near to a multitude of other contemporary tombs of the 7th-5th century BC. It is a square room built just a few feet under the surface, which was filled with elaborate grave goods. One nearby tomb turned up 2 iron spits for roasting things!
The team this year mostly consisted of British students, who were there from the 25th August-28th September. Other participants were there for a shorter period of time from Germany, Norway and the USA. Both sites were excavated to a similar standard, with some variation in methodology; the Macchiabuia necropolis team had access to a total station, for example, while the Casa del Anfore site had to make do with string and known base points to work out the relative positions of contexts. The team also got to wash the finds from the sites, and identify what sort of pottery had been found in a series of workshops in the Etruria Nova headquarters.
Casa del Anfore:
The structure, some 20 by 30 metres in length, was a one-story building, with a courtyard in the centre, surrounded by at least 6 rooms on 3 sides. The floor was made up of clay, and it is highly likely that the walls were covered in clay too (the layers above the floor level were made up of large amounts of clay and silt) The main features within the casa that had been identified from previous seasons included a drain, with a amphora inside that, upon the use of chemical analysis, had potentially no function. This was all the more remarkable given that the vast majority of the amphorae that had been tested showed their use for fish and vegetable oils (a common combination that resulted in the increased longevity of the meat, hence you could transport the goods further); this leads to the technologically advanced idea that this one amphora was used for collecting rainwater. There was nothing special about the amphora itself, except for this one crucial chemical analysis, and it's position within the house to suggest this function. How wierd is that?
In addition, a large number of the rooms had been excavated, but there were still 3 to finish (one was partially started towards the end of the dig). Each one seemed to have a different function; room L, for example, had turned up a very fancy plate that would have been used for Etruscan banqueting. It had just been left there, possibly abandoned. Bucchero pottery was also fairly common across the site; it is a black colour, quite thin, and was often used in small bowls and the like. Krater pottery was also present, indicating a more localised storage usage. Seriously, go check out the size and shape of them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krater)! In addition to Kraters, other red-figure wares were also on site (these are Greek pots, from the 7th century BC). It is highly likely that this was a high-status family, or group of families, who lived here, with their dominant view of the coujntryside, facing the sea and with lots of varied pottery, both local and imported from Greece, Egypt and probably the Near East as well.
The house appears to have been abandoned over a short space of time, from the current evidence, with no sign of continued occupation after about the 5th-4th centuries BC. However, in the 18th century, a bandit's hut was set up over the site of the Casa ()
Photo 1: The Casa, taken from the west corner of the house. Rooms G and L are just off to the left of the photo.
Photo 4: One of the team carefully excavating broken pieces of Etruscan cup from room G with a fine brush.
Photo 5: The well! A lot of the tiles had been taken out by this stage, but you can see some of them, and the roughly square shape of the infill.
Necropolis of Macchiabuia:
Meanwhile, the necropolis of Macchiabuia, several kilometres away, was also being excavated. The term necropolis, in this case, was being used to describe a multitude of burials; they are dotted all around this area of land! Often dating to around the 7th century BC (i.e. either contemporary or before the use of the house).
Their shaped was relatively consistent: an underground square room that often had no entrance to it, but stuffed with material goods as mentioned above. In one tomb nearby, there was a juvenile female burial with 3 "groups" of pottery usage found within the tomb: "la dispensa" (wine and grain residues found within these pots), "l'area privata" (wool making products, glass spindle, and a spit hook (don't ask me how a spit hook is used in the wool manufacturing process!)) and "l'area focolare" (an area containing a small stone circle, that has been tenaciously interpreted as a fireplace). Combine these elements together, and these would not look out of place in the living world of the Etruscans. Hence, these tombs are essentially literal "houses of the dead". Other examples of these square tombs with elaborate domestic items have been found all across Northern Italy and Campania from this period, although some rose above the ground, such as at Vetulonia (http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/vetluna.html). Arguably the most impressive tombs were at Tarquinia (although Vetulonia would disput this!), where some 6,000 tombs have been discovered stretching over the entirety of the Etruscan period (also, some of these tombs have beautifully painted walls, which is unheard of anywhere else in Etruscan tombs) (UNESCO)!
All photographs were taken from my Vivitar F128. All rights reserve by the author.