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Discovery News: Etruscan Inscription Reveals Name of Goddess

“Etruscan sanctuaries are often dedicated to more than one deity. And we have possible indications that the cult may have changed in nature. As always, you answer one question but raise many more,” Warden added.

Science news site Discovery News covered a new discovery from the SMU-sponsored dig at Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization. Archaeologists previously found a 2500-year-old slab in the foundation of a monumental temple at the dig, and have determined now that sacred text on the stele, as it’s called, mentions the name “Uni,” an Etruscan fertility goddess.

The article, “Etruscan Inscription Reveals Name of Goddess,” published online Aug. 25.

Leading the project, which has been underway for more than two decades, is archaeologist Gregory Warden, professor emeritus at SMU. Warden is co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

The Mugello Valley archaeologists are announcing discovery of the goddess Uni at an exhibit in Florence on Sept. 2, “Scrittura e culto a Poggio Colla, un santuario etrusco nel Mugello,” and in a forthcoming article in the scholarly journal Etruscan Studies.

Read the full story.


Discovery News
The name of a powerful goddess of fertility has emerged from a 2,500-year-old inscribed slab, revealing what might be the longest Etruscan inscription on stone.

Written in the puzzling Etruscan language, the stone bears the name of Uni, the supreme goddess of the Etruscan pantheon — basically the equivalent to the Greek goddess Hera and the Roman Juno.

Weighing about 500 pounds and nearly four feet tall by two feet wide, the sandstone slab, or stele, was discovered some months ago during the final stages of two decades of digging at Poggio Colla, some 22 miles miles north-east of Florence in the Mugello Valley.

It was found embedded in the foundations of a stone temple.

The 6th century B.C. slab is heavily abraded and chipped and contains text, written right to left, of more than 120 characters. It is divided into words by means of three vertically aligned dots.

“Cleaning at a restoration center in Florence has allowed better visibility of the inscribed signs, making it possible to identify a larger sequence of letters and words,” Adriano Maggiani, a former professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription, told Discovery News.

“The presence in the inscription of the name Uni suggests the text has a religious character,” he added.

Read the full story.

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One of the most significant Etruscan discoveries in decades names female goddess Uni

One of the longest Etruscan texts ever found, the inscription’s mention of Uni may indicate she was patroness of the Poggio Colla cult, with stone’s language spelling out ceremonial religious rituals

Archaeologists translating a very rare inscription on an ancient Etruscan temple stone have discovered the name Uni — an important female goddess.

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.

The mention is part of a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone, said archaeologist Gregory Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

Scientists on the research discovered the ancient stone slab embedded as part of a temple wall at Poggio Colla, a 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.

Now Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound slab — called a stele (STEE-lee) — 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 veers from others in that it’s not a funerary text.

The Mugello Valley archaeologists had planned to announce discovery of the goddess Uni at an exhibit in Florence on Aug. 27, “Scrittura e culto a Poggio Colla, un santuario etrusco nel Mugello,” and in a forthcoming article in the scholarly journal Etruscan Studies. The exhibit opening has been delayed to Sept. 2 due to the recent devastating earthquake in areas of Italy unrelated to the Poggio Colla research.

Text may specify the religious ritual for temple ceremonies dedicated to the goddess
It’s possible the text contains the dedication of the sanctuary, or some part of it, such as the temple proper, so the expectation is that it will reveal the early beliefs of a lost culture fundamental to western traditions.

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.

Etruscans once ruled Rome, influencing that civilization in everything from religion and government to art and architecture. A highly cultured people, Etruscans were also very religious and their belief system permeated all aspects of their culture and life.

Inscription may reveal data to understand concepts and rituals, writing and language
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, thus funerary in nature.

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” Warden said. “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.”

Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date.

One section of the text refers to “tinaś,” a reference to Tina, the name of the supreme deity of the Etruscans. Tina was equivalent to ancient Greece’s Zeus or Rome’s Jupiter.

Slab was once an imposing and monumental symbol of authority
The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority, said Warden, president and professor of archaeology at Franklin University Switzerland.

The text is being studied by two noted experts on the Etruscan language, including Maggiani, who is an epigrapher, and Rex Wallace, professor of classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who is a comparative linguist.

A hologram of the stele will be shown at the Florence exhibit, as conservation of the stele is ongoing at the conservation laboratories of the Archaeological Superintendency in Florence. Digital documentation is being done by experts from the architecture department of the University of Florence. The sandstone is heavily abraded and chipped, so cleaning should allow scholars to read the inscription.

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.

Besides SMU, other collaborating institutions at Mugello Valley Archaeological Project include Franklin and Marshall College, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at The University of Texas at Austin, The Open University (UK), and Franklin University Switzerland. — Margaret Allen, SMU

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SMU’s engineering students to test new virtual reality game to practice solving hands-on infrastructure failure problems

Games let people experience the unknown and unfamiliar in a virtual world, and have the power to engage their users.

SMU’s engineering students will help test a new virtual reality game that will someday be rolled out to classrooms everywhere to help students design, inspect and test geotechnical — soil and rock — systems virtually.

SMU will receive $80,000 in funding as part of a larger $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which was awarded to professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.

Called Geo Explorer, the game places students in a virtual field-testing experience to learn how to use the instrument and interpret its results, said Usama El Shamy, associate professor, department of civil and environmental engineering, SMU Lyle School of Engineering.

“Nowadays, Students get hands-on lab experiences testing element-level samples in geotechnical engineering classes,” said El Shamy. “When it comes to field testing, they only see images of the instrument and deal with raw test data.”

The game will broaden the learning experience considerably.

“The game is intended to place the students in a virtual environment where they can perform the field test, and gather and interpret its data as they play,” he said.

“Other modules of the game will place the student in the position of an engineer inspecting the integrity of a levee after a rain storm. The student should be able to promptly report any warning signs of potential failure of the levee,” El Shamy said. “Failure to do a timely report would result in failure of the levee, or, in other words, game over.”

Mixed-reality and mobile game virtually brings students into the field with immersive learning
Geo Explorer is a mixed-reality and mobile game to virtually bring students into the field to conduct geotechnical site investigations and evaluations. It’s being developed by Rensselaer civil engineering faculty Tarek Abdoun and Victoria Bennett.

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“Geo Explorer has a tremendous potential to teach students about the deadly consequences of deteriorating infrastructure,” Bennett said. “Games let people experience the unknown and unfamiliar in a virtual world, and have the power to engage their users.”

The immersive learning from playing Geo Explorer will let students participate in geotechnical field testing, inspect levees during and after extreme storms, assess stability and make decisions about future actions related to flood-control infrastructure.

El Shamy will test the use of the game in SMU’s undergraduate geotechnical engineering classes, which are part of the Lyle School’s civil engineering program, then provide feedback on the game’s design and impact on intended learning outcomes. Preliminary testing of the game in classes will start in April.

A bridge to the lab, Geo Explorer incorporates testing actual soil samples
Geo Explorer also includes a bridge to the actual laboratory. Players will not only use mobile devices, downloading field data, receiving messages from characters and collaborating with classmates, but will test actual soil samples in the lab and can upload results to the game.

Abdoun and Bennett note that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina illustrate the serious consequences of a deteriorating infrastructure and a public ill-equipped to respond to weather extremes.

Such challenges cannot be adequately met in the traditional classroom.

Games like Geo Explorer can address the gaps in geotechnical engineering education by providing realistic virtual experience with the unfamiliar, letting participants weigh choices and experience their consequences.

“Ultimately, Geo Explorer will be available for free and be scaled for use by students from kindergarten through high school, particularly in districts with a high percentage of minorities who are underrepresented in technical fields,” Abdoun said.

Concept opens up possibilities for developing games in other areas of science and technology
Geo Explorer is intended to educate the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, said Rensselaer’s Shekhar Garde, dean of the School of Engineering.

“Geo Explorer has a great potential to educate students about grand challenges in infrastructure resilience, sustainability and stewardship,” Garde said. “It also opens up possibilities for developing games in other areas of science and technology for a range of applications in human health, including chemical and biological safety.”

Funds will be used to utilize the game in a geotechnical course that integrates Geo Explorer. The project builds on game modules developed by Deltares, an institute for applied research in water, subsurface and infrastructure based in the Netherlands.

Besides SMU and Rensselaer faculty, other partners include Casper Harteveld, Northeastern University; Flora McMartin, Broad-Based Knowledge; and Joseph Tront, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Manhattan College; and California State University Fullerton. — Southern Methodist University, Rensselaer Polytechnic

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