Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess

archaeology

Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess

Greg Warden with Etruscan steleArchaeologists translating a very rare inscription have discovered the name of a goddess in a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone.

The discovery indicates that Uni – a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place – may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” said SMU professor emeritus Gregory Warden. The University is the main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

“It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Scientists discovered the ancient stone slab embedded as part of a temple wall at the Poggio Colla dig, where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

Poggia Colla steleNow Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound stele to translate the text. It’s very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

“The location of its discovery – a place where prestigious offerings were made – and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character,” said Adriano Maggiani, formerly professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

“It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary — a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space,” said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project that made the discovery.

Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more.

While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before – particularly since this discovery is not a funerary text. Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves.

Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date. The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story and see more images at SMUResearch.com

September 12, 2016|News, Research|

Research: How hiding in plain sight saved the Jicarilla Apache

Book cover of 'Becoming White Clay' by B. Sunday EiseltNorth America’s Jicarilla Apache tribe cloaked themselves in trade, diplomacy, and intermarriage and nearly escaped incarceration on an American Indian reservation. How they did it has been a mystery of the historical American Southwest – until now.

“In some ways, the Jicarilla still remain invisible,” according to SMU anthropologist Sunday Eiselt.

The Jicarilla Apache, an amalgamation of nomadic tribes that in the 18th century migrated off the plains and settled in the northern Rio Grande of New Mexico, were accustomed to armed resistance, guerrilla tactics and inter-tribal warfare.

They fought alongside the Pueblo Indians in the Revolt of 1680 and later resisted Comanche raiders, sometimes as contract fighters and security guards for the Spanish and American trade caravans. Then quietly, deliberately and peacefully they slipped off the radar of Spanish colonization and U.S. Manifest Destiny until 1888, when the Jicarilla became the last Native American tribe forcibly settled on a reservation.

“This was not an accident of history,” says Eiselt. The Apache, particularly the Jicarilla, were experts at invisibility — not just physically, but also socially and economically. For example, Jicarilla warriors on raids would paint themselves during the journey to the plains with white clay to avoid detection by their enemies.

The protocol beckoned supernatural or spiritual protections to bring the warriors home safely. Just as white clay was a warrior strategy for self-preservation, it stands as a metaphor for the primary message of the book.

“By ‘becoming white clay’ in their social and economic dealings,” Eiselt contends, “the Jicarilla turned the tables on non-Indian expansion and disappeared into the cultural fabric of the Southwest’s Pueblo colonies as other Native Americans were being forced onto reservations.” The Jicarilla, without firing a shot, not only avoided confinement and even extermination for nearly two centuries, they rescued their culture from extinction.

“The Jicarilla essentially colonized the colonies,” says Eiselt, an expert on the Jicarilla. “They became invisible to government authorities because they were always on the move, they intermarried with the Pueblo and Hispanic peoples, and they established long-standing trade with them. They disappeared by becoming essential, an everyday part of the frontier society of New Mexico, which sustained Spanish, Mexican and ultimately U.S. interests.”

Encapsulation of one society within a larger, dominant or more powerful society is a phenomenon known as enclavement. As a strategy it was not new to the ancestors of the Jicarilla. In fact, enclavement may have occurred multiple times as their Athapaskan ancestors migrated from Canada to the American Southwest beginning as early as the 12th century, Eiselt says.

“Few scholars recognize how significant the Jicarilla contribution was to the survival of the traditional cultures of New Mexico,” says Eiselt, whose new book “Becoming White Clay” (University of Utah Press, 2012) is a comprehensive study of one of the longest-lived and most successful nomadic ethnic group enclaves in North America. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of research into the Jicarilla, even though they’ve always been there and their contribution to New Mexican history is almost entirely underappreciated.”

“Sunday Eiselt has produced the definitive work on Jicarilla Apache history and archaeology,” says Ronald H. Towner, University of Arizona. “She uses a strong theoretical approach to enclavement and combines history, archaeology and ethnohistory to not only describe past Jicarilla movements and cultural development throughout the Southwest, but to explain how and why Jicarilla social organization at different scales structured that development during times of warfare, removal from traditional lands and economic stress. Eiselt’s scholarship is second-to-none.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

February 25, 2013|Research|

Calendar Highlights: Sept. 6, 2012

A Taste of Tango: Break out your dancing shoes and join the Meadows Wind Ensemble for “A Night in Buenos Aires: A Celebration of Tango.” The program features numerous tango performances that are sure to dazzle and inspire you – and even includes works by Igor Stravinsky and John Phillip Sousa! The performance begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 in Caruth Auditorium. Admission is $7 for students, faculty and staff. For more information, call 214-768-2787 (214-SMU-ARTS).

Back to the Boulevard: The Mustangs’ first home game of the season is at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. We are up against Stephen F. Austin and hope to see everyone in white supporting our team. Pony up!


Jammin’ in the Atrium: Starting Sept. 12 you can add zest to your Wednesday lunch hour and join the Meadows World Music Ensemble for a jam session. The sessions start at noon in the Taubman Atrium, Owen Arts Center, and feature art and music from various cultures.

Annual archaeology lecture: Jeremy Sabloff, president of the Santa Fe Institute, gives the 2012 Fred Wendorf Distinguished Lecture in Archaeology at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13. Sabloff will discuss the development of Maya hieroglyphic texts and other exciting advancements of study in “Settlement Pattern Studies and the Emergence of the Current Model of Ancient Maya Civilization.” The lecture takes place in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. (Left, Jeremy Sabloff, photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Institute.)

Spanish art influence: This semester the Meadows Museum of Art will host the exhibit: “Diego Velazquez: The Early Court Portraits.” Velazquez was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and had large influence over the portraiture of the period. In the Meadows Museum from 3-6 p.m. on Thursday, Sep. 13 a free symposium, featuring three guest speakers, will take place. The exhibit will open the following Sunday, Sep. 16, 2012 and run through Jan. 13, 2013.

The Opera Stars of SMU: The opening showcase of the 2012-13 Opera Free For All series begins at 1 p.m Friday, Sept. 14 in the Bob Hope Lobby of the Owen Arts Center. The showcase will feature 60-second arias by Meadows Opera Theatre Ensemble members. Performers will strategically use their allotted time to stand out and make a lasting impression.

Latin Spice: Latin American Heritage Month begins Sept. 15, 2012. President Lyndon Johnson first introduced this month-long celebration of Latin history and culture; Sept. 15 was chosen as the start date because on that day in 1821, five Latin American countries gained independence. During this month we recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of the Latin American community.

September 6, 2012|Calendar Highlights|

Research Spotlight: Trial by fire, and how humans respond to it

The 2011 Wallow Fire in ArizonaAn interdisciplinary team of researchers will examine how humans in the Southwest have responded to changes in the surrounding forests over multiple centuries. The research is funded by a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is about forest fire history, fuels and forests, how human activities have changed them, and the influence of drought and dry conditions, said Thomas W. Swetnam, principal investigator on the grant and director of the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

Christopher Roos, archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, is co-principal investigator for the study, which will use tree-ring and archaeological methods to reveal the fire history of the forest and of the forest close to the human settlement sites.

In addition to Roos and Swetnam, co-principal investigators are T.J. Ferguson, a professor of practice in UA’s School of Anthropology; Sara Chavarria, director of outreach for UA’s College of Education; Robert Keane and Rachel Loehman of the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana; and Matthew J. Liebmann of Harvard University’s department of anthropology.

The scientists are focusing on New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, where native peoples lived within the ponderosa pine forest in significant numbers for centuries before Europeans came to North America.

While fire is a natural part of the Southwest’s forests and grasslands, the region’s massive forest fires this year were exacerbated by decade-long drought. In addition, more people are living in or near fire-adapted ecosystems, increasing the likelihood that human activities will affect and be affected by forest fires.

The team will study the interplay among human activities at the wildland-urban interface, climate change and fire-adapted pine forests.

“Humans and fire are interconnected all the way back to our beginnings,” Swetnam said. “Drought and dry conditions are going to keep going on, so there’s an urgency in understanding what’s happening. We’re seeking to know how we can live in these forests and these landscapes so they are more resilient in the face of climate change.”

Courtesy of the University of Arizona

Left, Arizona’s Wallow fire, the largest in the state’s history, burned from May 29 to July 8, 2011, scorching more than 538,000 acres in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. The fire was named for the Bear Wallow Wilderness area, in which it originated. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service.)

> Get the full story from the SMU Research blog

October 5, 2011|Research|

Research Spotlight: 3-D map confirms ancient Mayan structures at ‘Head of Stone’ site

Brigitte Kovacevich at Holtun, 'Head of Stone,' in GuatemalaArchaeologists have made the first three-dimensional topographical map of ancient monumental buildings long buried under centuries of jungle at the Maya site “Head of Stone” in Guatemala.

The map puts into 3-D perspective the location and size of Head of Stone’s many buildings and architectural patterns, which are typical of Maya sites: 70-foot-tall “triadic pyramid,” an astronomical observatory, a ritual ball court, numerous plazas and also residential mounds that would have been the homes of elites and commoners, according to SMU archaeologist Brigitte Kovacevich.

The buildings date from 800 B.C. to 900 A.D., says Kovacevich, an expert in Meso-American cultures in the Department of Anthropology of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She is co-leader of an international scientific team that has been granted permission by the Guatemalan government to work the site, which has never before been excavated.

The ancient Maya culture at its peak during the Classic period has been well-documented by archaeologists studying the civilization’s large urban centers, such as Tikal, which was one of the most powerful and long-lasting of the Maya kingdoms.

In contrast, “Head of Stone,” called “Holtun” in Maya, is a modest site from the Pre-Classic period, 600 B.C. to 250 A.D., she says. The small city had no more than 2,000 people at its peak. Situated about 35 kilometers south of Tikal, “Head of Stone” in its heyday preceded the celebrated vast city-states and kingship culture for which the Maya are known.

Holtun’s structures – more than 100 of them – now are overgrown with a thin layer of centuries-old jungle foliage and soil. The site is about one kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, or almost three-quarters of a mile long and one-third of a mile wide. The large mounds protruding here and there from the jungle floor signal to archaeologists the familiar building arrangements customary at a Maya site, Kovacevich says.

As with most Maya sites, looters have tunneled into many of the important structures. Kovacevich and her colleagues will dig more tunnels to further explore the buildings with the help of Guatemalan experts skilled at working Maya sites.

The 3-D mapping has confirmed an “E Group,” a key Maya architectural structure. Holtun’s “E Group” dates from 600 B.C. to 600 A.D. and consists of stair-step pyramids and elongated buildings that likely served as astronomical observatories central to Maya rituals. A stepped pyramid to the west of a long narrow building directly oriented north-south served as the observational structure and was related to veneration of sacred ancestors, Kovacevich says.

Adjacent to the “E Group” are four structures that face one another around a central patio. The pattern usually indicates a residential group, where cooking and food processing were carried out on the patio, Kovacevich says.

“The closeness of the residential structure to the “E Group” suggests these were very early elites, and possibly kings,” she says. “Kingship was just being established during this period.”

A triadic pyramid dating from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. sits at the north end of the site. As is typical at Maya sites, three pyramids about 10 feet tall sit atop a high platform that rises about 60 feet from the jungle floor, Kovacevich says. One of the pyramids faces south, flanked on either side by the other two, which face inward around a central patio. The platform sits atop – and obscures – an earlier sub-structure platform, buried underground and decorated with monumental masks that are visible from the looters’ tunnels.

During the Classic period, kings were typically buried in Maya pyramids. During the Pre-Classic period, however, that isn’t the case and they were typically buried in their residence. It’s possible an early king of Holtun was buried in one of the residential structures, Kovacevich says.

“Ancestors are buried beneath the floor and kept very close and venerated,” she says. “The more ancestors a residence has, the more times the family redoes their floor, making a new floor, and so their mound gets higher and higher. A person with more ties, more ancestors, has more status.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Get the full story and a slideshow at the SMU Research blog

April 20, 2011|Research|
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