Digging The Etruscans: 15 Seasons And Counting
P. Gregory Warden, University
Distinguished Professor of Art
History, has just celebrated
the 15th anniversary of the Mugello
Valley Archaeological Project, an
Etruscan dig 20 miles northeast of
Florence, Italy. The Etruscan civilization
existed from 1000 B.C. to
50 B.C. and eventually was subsumed
by the Romans. He serves as
principal investigator and co-director
of the project’s Poggio Colla
Field School, an internationally recognized
research training center in which SMU has participated
since 1995 with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology
and Franklin and Marshall College.
For the first time, the Meadows Museum at SMU displayed
nearly 100 Etruscan artifacts discovered at Poggio Colla during
the spring semester. In the following Q&A, Warden talks about
Poggio Colla and its discoveries.
Q.Why study the Etruscans?
I was born in Florence and lived in Tuscany until I was 10
years old. My father was very interested in archaeology. For me,
Mediterranean history is everywhere in Tuscany. Wherever you
go in an Italian town, there are visible Roman ruins and Etruscan
walls. It didn’t seem at all esoteric. I had worked all over the
Mediterranean – I studied the Greeks in Libya and the Romans
– but the Etruscans are my first love. Because we’re excavating in
the valley where I grew up, that is a great advantage to me as a
scholar. I knew the area intimately, it was archaeologically interesting
and there was a lot to be discovered.
Q. What are among the significant discoveries at Poggio Colla?
The Poggio Colla site spans most of Etruscan history, from 700
BCE to the town’s destruction by the Romans around 178 BCE,
which makes it very rare. The Etruscans picked beautiful, easily
defended hilltops for their settlements. As a result, many Etruscan
sites are used as cities today. That means many have 2,000 years
of other civilizations on top of Etruscan artifacts. Poggio Colla,
however, represents an entire settlement – including tombs, a
temple, a pottery factory and an artisan community. One significant
discovery is the Podere Funghi complex, a terrace below the
acropolis sanctuary, where we found a habitation area with kilns
and artisan production. A surprise has been the discovery of a
fortified sanctuary of a temple that was destroyed. The temple is
revealing much new information about the Etruscans, who had a theocratic social structure and were considered the most religious
peoples of the ancient Mediterranean.
Q. Both undergraduate and graduate students are included on
every dig. What have they contributed to the research?
We attract spectacular students who come from universities all
around the United States. We train them on site in the actual
physical aspects of archaeology. It takes about a week for them to
get comfortable. Our students are our eyes and hands, excavating
intelligently. They are finding primary sources such as ceramics,
figural bronzes, the remains of a destroyed temple such as stone
bases or parts of the foundation, and even gold jewelry and silver
coins. They have to document everything carefully and be able to
reconstruct where every piece was found. They also spend time in
the onsite lab cataloging and processing all the finds that come
down in great numbers. The students are surrounded by experts
who are there to help them learn the process and who can mentor
them. A few come back every year. (For more information on
the 2009 dig, visit blog.smu.edu/StudentAdventures/archaeology
Q.What are the ongoing plans for Poggio Colla?
After 20 years, we’ll stop digging. We could
dig for 100, there’s so much stuff around there.
But the ethical thing to do is to stop at some
point and publish. You have to publish your
data before you excavate more. We’ve discovered
so much in the lab that we didn’t know
before, like the kinds of activities going on in
the artisan area, the types of pottery being
made. Questions like who destroyed the temple
and why was it destroyed aren’t going to be answered
by digging. We’re going to answer those
questions by analyzing all the items that we
found and their context.
Q.What do you hope SMU’s legacy will be to Poggio Colla?
We’re passionate about training people who care about the past
and saving the Etruscan culture and heritage. That includes our
students, because even though many of them won’t go on to become
archaeologists, they will still understand why preservation
is important. The project also brings in Italian high school students
from the region to attend lectures and to excavate with us. When
we leave, hundreds of students will know why this site is important
and will let other people know, so that it won’t be destroyed.
Italy’s cultural heritage is disappearing. We can’t preserve it all,
but we do what we can.
For more information: smu.edu/poggio