Scientists discovered a heck of a tomb in Tuscany in 2013: Inside the tomb, they found what they thought to be the 2,600-year-old remains of an Etruscan prince holding a spear, along with the incinerated skeleton of his wife. Not so fast. ... The Etruscan warrior prince was actually a 35- to 40-year-old princess, while the incinerated remains belonged to a man, according to bone analyses. The findings reveal more about the elusive Etruscan culture, which flourished in what is now Italy until it was absorbed by the Romans in 400–500 B.C.
Shown here, the perfectly sealed tomb in the necropolis of Tarquinia in Tuscany. [Read the full story on the Etruscan prince-princess]
The necropolis of Tarquinia, a The tomb was found at the necropolis of Tarquinia, a UNESCO world heritage site, contains more than 6,000 graves cut into the rock, some up to 2,900 years old. The gender mix-up of the skeletons illustrates how modern biases can taint the interpretation of ancient graves. In this case, views held by ancient Greeks and Romans would suggest the partially incinerated skeleton belonged to a woman, as those cultures were known to cloister away women. However, Etruscan women were apparently more carefree, consorting with men and raising children who didn't know their fathers, according to Greek historian Theopompus.
Blocking the tomb's opening was a sealed slab, which the archaeologists removed to find two large platforms: on one was a skeleton holding a lance and the other held a partially incinerated skeleton. They also discovered jewelry and a bronze-plated box, which may have belonged to a woman, the researchers said.
Here, you can see the other platform, which held the ashes of an individual that had been mostly incinerated.
Box of jewelry
The grave contained a beautifully-preserved pyx, or an embossed bronze-plated box, as well as several pieces of jewelry.
Inside the Etruscan tomb, the researchers also unearthed a flask, still hanging from a nail on the wall.
At first glance, the tomb seemed to hold the body of a warrior holding a lance and his wife, whose jewelry was included in the tomb. But a bone analysis revealed that the skeleton holding the lance was in fact a 35 to 40-year-old woman. The find shows the problem with interpreting grave sites based on the objects found inside them.
Excavating the site
Here, the archaeologists excavate the site of the Etruscan tomb in Tuscany, Italy.
Though Etruscan tombs are littered throughout the Tuscan countryside, it's rare to find one that hasn't been thoroughly looted, and even rarer to find a tomb housing the elites of society. As such, the new site provides unique insight into Etruscan culture.
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.