Etruscan tomb in Corsica may yield secrets on civilization's decline

By Paul Ortoli
An archaeologist works in an Etruscan tomb containing a skeleton and dozens of objects in Aleria, in the east of the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, in this picture provided by INRAP (Institut National de Recherches Archeologique Preventives) on March 27, 2019. Denis Gliksman/Inrap/HANDOUT via Reuters

By Paul Ortoli

ALERIA, Corsica (Reuters) - French archaeologists have unearthed an Etruscan tomb containing a skeleton and dozens of artefacts in Corsica, a rare discovery that could shed new light on the wealthy civilization of northern Italy and its assimilation into the Roman Empire.

The archaeologists found the vault, chiselled into the rock and dating back to the fourth century B.C., within a large Roman necropolis containing thousands of tombs in Aleria, in the east of the French Mediterranean island.

The Etruscans originated in Tuscany during the Bronze Age in around 900 B.C. and left little written trace of their culture. Their decline was gradual and the last Etruscan cities were absorbed by Rome around 100 B.C.

The discovery, announced this week, could yield new details on the existence of a stable Etruscan population in Corsica and help archaeologists understand the slow demise of the Etruscan civilization.

"It's the missing link which will allow us to piece together Etruscan funerary rites, but it also reinforces the hypothesis that before the Roman conquest (in -259 B.C), Aleria was a transit point in the Tyrrhenian Sea, blending Etruscan, Carthaginian and Phocaean interests", head curator Franck Leandri said.

The grave appears to belong to a high-ranking official, holding "about 15 ceramic vases similar to Etruscan pieces and what appears to be a mirror or the lid of a casing", anthropologist Catherine Rigeade said at the site.

"We have some knowledge of Etruscan objects, but we know very little about Etruscan subjects; here we have both", Rigeade added.

Close to the tomb, archaeologists discovered a gold signet ring bearing almost no trace of time. On it, a feminine face, possibly depicting the goddess Aphrodite, can be made out.

The researchers will now focus on accessing the skeleton, which is covered with collapsed furniture apart from its skull. They plan to call in forensic scientists to help reveal the secrets of the remains.

(Writing by Julie Carriat; Editing by Richard Lough and Frances Kerry)