Etruscan NAGPRA?

First off I understand that the NAGPRA was created to help decedent communities who were dis-empowered by a European invasion that believed in the little idea of manifest destiny but I was wondering how would our knowledge base change if there was a decedent community that actually had ties to the Etruscans still around.* This is just my own curious train of thoughts.

This idea of an Etruscan NAGPRA can about while reading Robert Leighton’s Tarquinia book. I was struck by his comment “Today, the clandestini may be fined or incarcerated if caught, although theirs is regarded as a crime against science or property, not one of profanation, while archaeologist excavate tombs unchallenged, as long as it is done scientifically. On this apparently sentimental point, no one has ventured a word on behalf of the long dead Etruscans.” (pg24)


Ara Della Regina Column receiving no love out in a field. (Photo Credit- A. Carroll).

What if there was a group of people who wanted the tombs, the final resting places of actual people, to be left alone and only permit limited rescue work when needed? How would we feel if someone dug up our own graves? I bet that most would feel weird being put on display in a museum. I know I would. What if there was a current culture who was pushing for the respecting of Etruscan graves and instead only allowed the homes and workshops of the Etruscans to be excavated. How much would the Etruscans be ignored like many American Indians are in the United States of America.

The bigger issue, besides me feeling weird by the thought of my dust dry bones behind glass, is the lack of news about what is happening to our understanding of a major Mediterranean culture. I feel the English speaking population would be left fully in the dark about this wonderful culture. For the most part, I find that English speaking newspapers only publish on tombs. If there is any English article on a non-funerary excavation it is because it is sensational like the infant bones found at Poggio Civitate.** If I want to find anything about the cities or other non-funerary excavations, I need to turn to the Italian news papers. And if someone hasn’t spent the time to learn Italian, well I hope Google Translate is up to the job for helping them. I’ve yet to see any English paper pick up on the walls found in Populonia this fall after the torrential rains and the burning that appears to on some sections of these walls.


Etruscan Tomb in Tarquinia from 2013.

No instead newspapers focus on the tombs. Two years ago there were a few articles on the new tomb at Tarquinia, and this fall one came out about the excavations at Citta del Pieve, and I am sure an English article will come out soon about the work being done at Vulci. But there is so much more being done in the world of Etruscan Studies. It is a shame that most of these discoveries are kept from a wider audience because of language barriers or newspaper editors.


Maybe it is time to have more of these PhDs and Masters degree holders help share what is happening in the academic world of archaeology with the greater public. We all can be going to the conferences, reading the articles and helping non-specialists understand what it is we get so excited about when we pull out a trowel and play in the dirt. I know hope to be able to.


*And I do not count the modern Tuscans as a decedent community no mater what the Guardian publishes (Original Guardian Article:, two articles using sound theory prove it otherwise: and

**Dr. Shipley does a wonderful job looking at the way news treated this.


About handyatmurlo

I am a Latin teacher at Regis Jesuit High School. I earned my MA at CU Boulder and my BA at UMass Amherst. I have spent my summers working in Italy as an archaeologist at three different sites. One I have worked at for 10 years at Poggio Civitate at Vescovado di Murlo. I have worked at the Villa of Maxentius in Rome for 2 years, before the project ended. I also spent 2 summers at the FSU excavations in Cosa.
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