SMU's Museum Opens Exhibit of Etruscan Artifacts

DALLAS (AP) - Italy's ancient Etruscans were buried with a dazzling array of objects - everything from delicate gold jewelry to items one would need for a banquet - such as chalices, plates and a strainer for wine.

Such tomb artifacts along with a stunning 29-foot-long terra-cotta pediment from an Etruscan temple and items found in temples are part of a new exhibit at Southern Methodist University's Meadows Museum featuring more than 450 objects, many being seen for the first time in the United States.

"It's a fantastic chance for people to see things even the experts don't always get to see," said Claire Lyons, curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, who added that while she toured the exhibit she heard even archeologists marveling at the pieces on display.

The Etruscan civilization spanned from roughly 900 B.C. to 100 B.C., by which time they were conquered by the Romans and had been assimilated into Roman society. For a time though, it was the Etruscans, Phoenicians and Greeks who ruled the Mediterranean.

"A lot of what we consider Italian culture today is from the Etruscans," said Greg Warden, an SMU art history professor who is the American scientific director for the exhibit.

Warden said artifacts help further the understanding of the ancient people because their literature and history is almost entirely gone. The Etruscan language, which has not been linked to any other known language, has been decoded but there's still not enough text to give a full picture.

"We don't know them as well as the Greeks or Romans," he said.

Their tombs do offer a glimpses into their society. The tombs can range from a mound of earth and stones over a grave to tombs resembling row houses.

Ivory items show trade with the Near East. Many tombs contained Greek vases, showing an active trade with that civilization. In fact, Warden said, most whole Greek vases on display in museums today actually came from well-preserved Etruscan tombs.

Artifacts from early tombs depict military status, including helmets, shin guards, swords and chariots. Women's tombs included not only exquisite jewelry but also chariots, showing that they had an active role in the society, unlike women's roles in Greece, for example. Etruscan women are also depicted in scenes as being present at banquets with men.

Most of the items for "From the Temple to the Tomb: Etruscan Treasures From Tuscany," which runs through May 17, come from the Florence National Archaeological Museum.

The Florence museum's director, Guiseppina Carlotta Cianferoni, curated the Dallas exhibit. Cianferoni said she hopes that visitors leave with a better understanding of the Etruscans.

An accompanying exhibit takes a look at an ongoing SMU-led excavation of an Etruscan settlement about 20 miles northeast of Florence called Poggio Colla. Each summer, students from around the world go to the site featuring a settlement surrounding a fortified acropolis on a hilltop containing the remains of a religious sanctuary.

"It's one of the few places that gives us insight into a sanctuary and the rituals there," said Michael Thomas, who along with Warden oversees team studying Poggio Colla.

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