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The ancient Etruscans are often remembered as a highly-cultured civilization which was peaceful and spiritual. However, the shocking discovery of a burial unearthed recently in Populonia, central Tuscany, Italy reminds researchers that, like most others, the civilization also had a dark side.

Dark Side of Etruscan Life Revealed in Discovery of Shackled Skeleton

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The ancient Etruscans are often remembered as a highly-cultured civilization which was peaceful and spiritual. However, the shocking discovery of a burial unearthed recently in Populonia, central Tuscany, Italy reminds researchers that, like most others, the civilization also had a dark side.

Seeker.com reports that archaeologists discovered a 2,500-year-old skeleton which is still bound by shackles on its neck and ankles. This is the first time researchers have discovered this type of burial at an Etruscan site. It was found at an ancient settlement built near the sea. The body was placed in a simple pit dug into the sandy soil near the beach of Baratti.

The skeleton has been identified as a male who died when he was 20 -30 years old. The surprising element of his burial is the heavy iron collar wrapped around his neck and the almost five pounds (2.27 kg) of iron which bound his legs. Giorgio Baratti, professor of archaeology at the University of Milan told Seeker, “He died in shackles and was buried with a shroud tied to the body. We found a black spot under the nape, most likely what remained of a wood object which was likely connected to the iron collar.'”

The shackles around the skeleton’s ankles.

The shackles around the skeleton’s ankles. ( Giorgio Baratti )

It is possible that the bindings on the man’s neck and ankles were connected by a material such as rope or leather. The researchers also discovered a ring on one of his left fingers which they suppose might have been a part of a device used to impede his ability to take long steps. Baratti believes the man was a slave or someone who was serving a punishment.

If he was a slave, the man could have worked in local iron mines or maritime activities. He lived near the beach of Baratti around the 5th century BC. During his lifetime, the area of Populonia was a very important center for iron processing.

Apart from the shackled skeleton, archaeologists unearthed many normal burials at the site as well. The graves belong to a necropolis which was also used during the 4th century BC. The researchers discovered a woman’s grave next to the skeleton of the shackled man. The grave goods in her burial allowed the team to date it to the 4th century. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the man’s burial didn't contain any grave goods. Future research such as DNA testing may help researchers to find out more about the mystery of the shackled man.

Although it is unique, the shocking burial isn't the first evidence of Etruscan cruelty. Archaeologists have previously discovered depictions of a Phersu “funerary game” inside four tombs in Tarquinia. This was a violent form of “entertainment” in which a person pulled on a leash causing a nail on a dog's collar to dig into the animal's neck - angering it and provoking it to attack a man. There is also evidence unearthed during excavations between 1982 and 2005 suggesting that the Etruscans practiced human sacrifice.

Depiction of Phersu running or dancing in the Tomb of the Augurs, late 6th century BC, Tarquinia.

Depiction of Phersu running or dancing in the Tomb of the Augurs, late 6th century BC, Tarquinia. ( Public Domain )

The last few months have been very insightful for individuals interested in Etruscan archaeology. One of the discoveries which was announced in ancient history news a few months ago was also about a unique Etruscan burial.

Natalia Klimczak reported on the find for Ancient Origins in March 2016: A tomb full of treasures was discovered in  Vulci, a former Etruscan city in the province of Viterbo, Italy. According to  ANSA.it, anthropological research helped back the theory that the recovered tomb contained the remains of a princess who belonged to the Etruscan aristocracy.

The Etruscan city of Vulci.

The Etruscan city of Vulci. ( Robin Iversen Rönnlund /CC BY SA 3.0 )

The tomb is dated  to the 8th century BC, and the burial chamber is three meters (9.8 ft.) below ground. It is located in front of the ticket office at the Vulci archaeological site. The tomb’s excavation was carried out by the Vulci Foundation in Montalto di Castro near Viterbo. When discussing the find, a 45-year-old site worker named  Tecla Del Papa said :

“We had no idea the tomb was there, but carried out an emergency dig last month after we noticed looters had excavated another tomb that was above the princess's tomb. The robbers had revealed, but not entered, the tomb below, so thanks to them, we were able to quickly find the burial chamber and quickly excavate it. Certainly such items lead us to believe that she was a princess, if not someone very important in society.”

Some of the  treasures that were discovered  in the tomb include a Phoenician amber necklace and two Egyptian scarabs made of gold, ivory, and silver. Apart from this, the team recovered many other beautiful and highly elaborate pieces that attest to the artistic prowess of the ancients and the wide extent of the seafaring Etruscans' trade links.

Top Image: The shackled skeleton found in Populonia, Italy. Source: Giorgio Baratti

By Natalia Klimczak

Comments

Has anyone questioned why a dead slave or prisoner would be buried with shackles that are no longer required? If no one asks this question we assume he was a slave. What if the shackles were because he was regarded as evil and the shackles were to prevent him rising from the dead? Anyone asked that?

I am consistantly baffled as to why people think that someone/group 3000 years ago, or 10 000 years ago or 200 years ago is somehow any different than we are today. Homo sap is as Homo sap does. They had loving families, and cruel criminals back then the same way we do now.

Dudes, please, tell me why we should think that the Etruscans were all unicorn rainbow pooping fluffy bunny huggers? On the basis of that one grave statue of the man snuggling the woman? Please .... I have seen footage of Hitler acting affectionately towards children, his dog Blondi and Eva Braun ...

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