Renaissance art, famous wine and perfect beaches are the first things that come to mind when talking about Tuscany. Lesser known is the region's Etruscan and Roman legacy. A shame if you consider that many of Tuscany's archaeology digs lie adjacent to beautiful hilltop towns and quite a few of the Etruscan museums are state of the art (at least for Italian standards). Less grand but also much lesser known than the Colosseum, these sites make for great off-the-beaten-path sightseeing all through Tuscany. If anything the problem is knowing where to start. Which is why I've pressed British archaeologist Lucy Shipley for some expert advice on the matter.
Where in Tuscany are you digging?
I dig at the site of Poggio Civitate, which is near the town of Vescovado di Murlo, about 20km south of Siena.
Why on that particular hill?
The Etruscan presence in the area was re-discovered by the Italian archaeologist Ranuccio Bianchi-Bandinelli in the 1920s, and excavations were begun in the 1960s by an American archaeologist, Kyle Meredith Phillips. It's a fantastic site with a great heritage and a brilliant place to work.
How and when did you fall in love with the Etruscans?
In 2008 I was working on the British Iron Age, when an Etruscan specialist told me I'd love working in Etruria more- I realised she was right on my first trip to Italy, gazing up at Orvieto from the funicular station.
A note-worthy eureka moment during your Etruscan studies or whilst digging in Italy?
Note-worthy to who? A lot of what I do is probably only note-worthy to me! Honestly, one of the biggest moments was hearing from my excavation director, Professor Anthony Tuck, that the team osteoarchaeologist Sarah Kansa had identified the infant remains from Poggio Civitate, and then seeing the site in the international media.
Your top 5 archaeological sites in Tuscany?
This is tough! Vetulonia, for the views and the gorgeous museum; Tarquinia, for Monterozzi and seafood lunches (I know it's in Lazio, but it is fabulous); Chiusi, for exploring and another wonderful museum; the Siena Archaeological Museum for its spooky underground atmosphere; and Murlo, of course!
Poggio Civitella: the town walls of the Etruscan settlement near Montalcino
I love the Vetulonia museum - the staff are delightful, the artefacts are beautiful, and for an interested tourist, you can spend all morning exploring the museum and archaeological site then head off to Castiglione della Pescaia for gelati and beach time!
The most extensive and publicly accessible collection of Etruscan artefacts in the world?
I think the best museum collection is that of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome - it's recently been revamped and is brilliant. If you are in the eternal city, it's a great place to visit, especially after a wander through the Villa Borghese park.
Only two letters separate the Tuscans from the Etruscans? Are they really that closely related?
That's a really difficult question to answer- there have been a number of recent DNA studies which have worked on that assumption to investigate Etruscan origins- but over the centuries, people from other places have definitely moved around and through Tuscany and settled there. I think that what really matters is how Tuscan people themselves feel- I know people who feel a personal or ancestral connection to the Etruscan past, whatever outside scientists say.
Something we may not know about the Etruscans?
The largest collection of Etruscan texts was used to wrap a mummy in Egypt, which later ended up in Zagreb, Croatia!
Etruscan vs. Romans?
Ha! A good question. It's all relative - the Etruscans definitely interest me more than the Romans, but I'm not going to antagonise any Romanists!
Your favorite Tuscan view, drive and/or walk?
My favourite view is probably from Bagno Vignoni, looking out over poppy fields and listening to the waterfalls in the background. I love the drive from Siena to Vescovado di Murlo- it's always charged with excitement and so beautiful. Walk-wise, I love to wander around Montalcino.
|Ancient road? Poggio Civitella near Montalcino|
Any tips for the wine and food loving archaeology traveler?
Find one of the mobile porchetta vendors, and have a panino full of deliciously herby piggy goodness, complete with crunchy skin with the hairs still in! And head to the artisanal gelateria in Buonconvento for mojito flavour gelato which is to die for after a hard day digging or sight-seeing. (Editor's note: sadly, this fantastic ice-cream shop has closed down recently, but beautiful Buonconvento is nevertheless worth a detour).
A dream in the cupboard? Archaeological or not.
I would really like to develop a project that includes the Tuscan people's views on their heritage- every Tuscan I've ever met has an opinion on the Etruscans, and I'd love to record all those thoughts, particularly those of the older generation.
Last but not least, a book, film or any other resource to prepare curious Tuscany travelers for their meeting with Etruscan culture?
D.H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places: Travels Through Forgotten Italy is a classic for a reason, and gives you a sense of the joy he felt wandering across Tuscany. If you're really keen, look out a copy of Mario Torelli's The Etruscans - the illustrations alone will blow your mind.
LUCY SHIPLEY is currently writing up her PhD in Etruscan archaeology at the University of Southampton, UK. She has been researching and excavating in and around Tuscany for five years. Her blog can be found at Pots Places Stones Bones and you can follow her on Twitter @lshipley805