Researchers in Italy have spent the last several months translating an ancient text recovered from a 2,500-year-old Etruscan temple, and believe they may have stumbled upon the name of a previously unheard of goddess. The inscription makes reference to a character named Uni, who the archaeologists say could have been the patroness of a fertility cult.
The text is among the largest ever discovered in the Etruscan language, and was inscribed into a 225-kilogram (500 pounds) stone slab – known as a stele – buried beneath a temple at the Poggio Colla sanctuary, once a key Etruscan settlement.
Occupying much of northern Italy from 400 to 800 BCE, the Etruscans are attributed with establishing many of the major cities that later become prominent centers of activity during the Roman Empire. However, because very few examples of Etruscan writing have been recovered, little is known about their way of life or belief system.
As such, lead researcher Gregory Warren has described the stele as “one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” since it provides some key insights into the ancient civilization’s language and practices.
The stele contains one of the largest Etruscan texts ever discovered. Mugello Valley Project
Other artifacts unearthed at Poggio Colla include a ceramic-based depiction of a birth scene, leading scientists to speculate that the temple may have had connections to a fertility cult. Warren and his colleagues suspect that the stone slab may contain the names of the deities to whom the temple was dedicated, and therefore believe that Uni may have been the site’s titular divinity.
Containing a total of 120 different characters, the stele has helped archaeologists learn more about Etruscan language and grammar. However, after more than two and a half millennia of erosion, much of the text has faded to the point where it is barely visible. Researchers have therefore spent the past several months carefully examining and restoring the inscription using photogrammetry and laser scanning, and are due to present their findings on August 27 at an exhibit in Florence.
According to Warren, the discovery “will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”