2,500-Year-Old Rock Could Be Key To Understanding Ancient Religious Cult - Atlas Obscura
Our new kids' book is on sale! Shop now.

2,500-Year-Old Rock Could Be Key To Understanding Ancient Religious Cult

Not much is known about the Etruscan civilization or its unique language.

(Photo: Mugello Valley Project)

Over 2,000 years ago in Western Italy lived the Etruscans, a civilization that had its own unique language and resided for years alongside the Ancient Romans. 

Their language, in particular, has historically not been very well understood. Unspoken for centuries, only fragments of the written language survive. 

On Tuesday, however, scientists announced they’d uncovered one of the biggest patches of Etruscan language to date. Written on a 500-pound stone slab, scientists think deciphering the over 70 legible letters and punctuation marks may help them discover more about the Etruscan religion. Who, for example, were their gods? 

“We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words,” said Greg Warden, a director of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, the group that made the discovery. “But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshipped at this site.”

A close up of the writing. (Photo: Mugello Valley Project)

Scientists found the stone during a dig outside of Florence, a place they’ve been excavating for two decades to uncover facts about the Etruscans. The stone slab, they said, was already proving to be one of their bigger findings. 

“Inscriptions of more than a few words, on permanent materials, are rare for the Etruscans, who tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets,” Jean MacIntosh Turfa, an Etruscan scholar, said. “This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 BCE.”