Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess


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

September 12, 2016|News, Research|

Calendar Highlights: Commencement Countdown, May 11, 2009

Etruscan exhibitLast days of the Etruscans: The landmark Meadows Museum exhibition “From the Temple and the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures From Tuscany” closes May 17. Make plans to visit now – visit the Meadows Museum website for hours and more information.

B.F.A. Qualifying Exhibition: SMU’s annual spring exhibition by the Division of Art’s newest Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates features works in a wide-ranging variety of styles and mediums. Check it out through May 16 in the Pollock Gallery on the Hughes-Trigg Student Center main level.

Honorary Degree Symposia: SMU honors its 2009 class of honorary degree recipients with the following special events, all scheduled for May 15:

• Panelists Mark Chancey of Dedman College’s Religious Studies Department and Jaime Clark-Soles, Roy Heller and Susanne Scholz of Perkins School of Theology discuss “The Bible in American Public Life,” a symposium honoring Doctor of Divinity recipient honoris causa Harold W. Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School. The symposium takes place 10 a.m.-noon in Perkins Chapel, preceded by a 9:15 a.m. reception in Bridwell Library.

• Co-founder and artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and honorary Doctor of Arts recipient Arthur Mitchell will discuss his life and work with Shelley Berg, Dance, and Maria Dixon, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, in “A Conversation with Arthur Mitchell,” followed by a Q & A with the audience. The event begins at 1 p.m. in O’Donnell Hall, 2130 Owen Arts Center.

• SMU faculty, staff and students are invited to meet acclaimed author and honorary Doctor of Humane Letters recipient Alexander McCall Smith and to take part in “A Conversation with Alexander McCall Smith,” moderated by Dedman School of Law Professor Fred Moss, from 2:30-4 p.m. in the Umphrey Lee Ballroom. The SMU Bookstore will sell McCall Smith’s books on site, and the author will autograph them after the program.

Commencement 2008 - Faculty Senate President Gary EvansRead more about the 2009 honorary degree recipients

Commencement Countdown 2009:

May 15-16: Class of 1959 Golden Reunion
May 15: Baccalaureate and Rotunda Recessional
May 16: Faculty Breakfast and Distinguished University Citizen Awards presentation
May 16: All-University Commencement
May 16: School and departmental diploma ceremonies

Find more information at the Registrar’s Commencement 2009 website
Read more about former First Lady Laura Bush (’68), the 2009 Commencement speaker

May 11, 2009|Calendar Highlights|
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