An ancient Etruscan warrior prince discovered inside a completely sealed tomb in Tuscany was actually a warrior princess. Archaeologists discovered the mistake after performing a bone analysis.
Several news outlets reported the discovery last month, claiming the remains were from a 2,600-year-old prince. Much to their (and scientists’) surprise, it wasn’t.
LiveScience reports that historians don’t know much about the Etruscan culture, which flourished in modern-day Italy until it was absorbed by the Roman Empire around 400 B.C. Unlike their more well-known counterparts at the time, the Etruscans didn’t leave behind historical documents.
Instead, archaeologists and historians must rely on their graves to find out about the ancient group’s culture and history. The newly found tomb was discovered in the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and already boasts more than 6,000 discovered graves. All are cut into the rock.
NBC News notes that, when the tomb was unsealed by archaeologists, they discovered two large platforms. One platform held a skeleton bearing a lance and the second held a partially incinerated skeleton. The team also discovered several pieces of jewelry and a bronze-plated box that may have belonged to a woman.
The lance on one skeleton led archaeologists to believe the skeleton was a male warrior, possible an Etruscan prince. They believed the jewelry belonged to the second body, the warrior’s wife. Unfortunately for them, the guess was incorrect.
Bone analysis revealed that the Etruscan warrior prince was actually a princess, and the second skeleton belonged to a man. The woman was between 35 and 40 years old when she died and the spear she was holding could have been either a symbol of union or an indication of the woman’s high status.
The gender assumptions show how easily modern and old biases can have an effect on the interpretation of ancient graves. In this instance, archaeologists likely relied on the lifestyles of Greeks and Romans. Greek women were cloistered away.
However, Greek historian Theopompus noted that Etruscan women were more carefree. They were known for working out, lounging around naked, drinking freely, and consorting with several men. They also raised children who didn’t know who their fathers were.
Judith Weingarten, an alumna of the British School at Athens, believes archaeologists should rely first on bone analysis, instead of using objects found in a grave for interpretation. She commented of the gender mix-up, “Until very recently, and sadly still in some countries, sex determination is based on grave goods… a clear illustration is jewelry: We associate jewelry with women, but that is nonsense in much of the ancient world. Guys liked bling too.”
Are you surprised to hear the ancient Etruscan warrior prince discovered in Tuscany was actually a warrior princess?
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