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Monday, July 13, 2020

The Etruscans through May 31, 2021 at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples

The exhibition in the newly reopened museum in Naples covers a period from the 10th-4th centuries BCE and reconstructs the historical foundations of the Etruscan population, whose greatness also derived from the control of the resources of two very fertile plains (the Po Valley in the North and the Campania Valley in the South). As the famous Greek historian Polybius recalled in the 2nd century B.C.E., "those who want to know the history of the power of the Etruscans must not refer to the territory they own at present, but to the plains" controlled by them. The history of the discovery of Etruscan Campania is, therefore, one of the most exciting chapters of archaeological research in Italy and the Mediterranean.

The exhibit includes artifacts from the Bernardini Tomb, displayed for the first time. I found an article on JSTOR that includes a translated version of the original 19th century excavation report.  I thought you might enjoy a retelling of the excavators' "first look" at the burial assemblage so I have summarized it here:

The tomb was discovered in a vineyard along the via di Loreto south of Praenestina. The ceiling of the tomb had caved in possibly from deep cultivation by the vineyard workers. Inside, excavators found a trench burial with human remains but as often occurred in 19th century excavations, these were thrown away.  The burial was estimated to have taken place in the 7th century BCE.

Shields were found adjoining the sides of the enclosure as if they had once been suspended from nails in the walls.  At the east end of the trench, where the deceased's head would have rested, a large gold plaque ornamented with 131 tiny animals in the round was found.  Next to it was a gold fibula and two gold-covered silver clasps. Also discovered were gold-covered tubes and silver wire.  Outside of the trench excavators recovered four iron lance heads with traces of their wooden shafts, and two daggers of bronze and iron with silver sheaths.  They also found bronze fittings of a funeral couch, fragments of three shields, a gold cup with four small sphinxes perched on the handles and numerous ivory fragments with ornamentation in relief or incised.  Along the walls were numerous silver and bronze vases and a tripod with human and animal figures peering over the edge into the bowl. Beside the west wall excavators found gold covered silver bowls with incised and embossed bands of decoration and a silver bowl with a Phoenician inscription. Fragments of bronze vases, more ivory fragments and traces of numerous wooden utensils were also discovered. Near the east wall a large cauldron and several bronze figures were recovered.

The quality of workmanship used to produce these objects varied widely from artistically excellent to unskilled workmen.  Scholars observed that some of the gold objects featured forms that were peculiar to the West so suggest these objects were made locally but perhaps by laborers imported from the east since the manufacturing techniques used in their production was quite similar to processes used in the east. The silver bowls and some of the bronzes decorated with winged figures and griffins had exact counterparts from Eastern sites so researchers thought they undoubtedly were imported.  They also concluded the ivory objects were imported because their motifs were quite different from those employed on the silver bowls.  Researchers point to the depiction of six-spoked chariots on the ivories while the bowls depicted a chariot with eight spokes. One of the bronze bowls was ornamented with heads in high relief wearing distinctive headdresses  which have been found on Rhodian jewelry of the same period. But the shields and many of the other bowls and minor objects of bronze and iron resemble those found in other similarly-dated Etruscan tombs.

Mold-made gold buckle decorated with four groups of three sphinxes and embellished with granulation details, 7th century BCE from the Bernardini Tomb at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

Gold-covered silver cup decorated with an incised story of a hunting trip encircled with the scaly body of a serpent, 7th century BCE, from the Bernardini Tomb at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

Gold cauldron depicting four rows of scenes including a row of geese, parades of armed men on foot and on horseback marching through trees with birds in flight and finally a series of depictions of country life and hunting.  On the convex bottom there is a medallion with a lion trampling a man on all fours while a hawk flies overhead.  Below the edge were applied at a later time six protomes of snakes. 7th century BCE, at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli.


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