UMass excavation sheds light on Etruscan life
The rising Tuscan sun casts a brilliant golden glow and promises another scorching day as more than 60 archaeologists, conservators, illustrators, and students from all over the world climb to the top of a remote Italian hilltop to continue the excavation of a once-impressive civilization of centuries ago.
Archaeological research at Poggio Civitate began in 1966 and came under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2006, when Anthony Tuck, director of excavations at the site, joined the Department of Classics. The site lies about 15 miles south of the Tuscan city of Siena, in the picturesque val d’Ombrone.
“Poggio Civitate is one of the few examples of a surviving Etruscan settlement,” Tuck says. “We know quite a lot about Etruscan burial practices, but very little about their daily lives. Because of the strange circumstances of the site’s abandonment in the sixth century BCE, we can see aspects of an Etruscan community of this period that no other site in the region preserves.”
Poggio Civitate was the center of a relatively robust community in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. Excavation has revealed two major phases of development, both preserving impressive evidence of domestic, industrial, and religious architecture adorned with compelling and enigmatic sculpture.
For Zach Zuber ’14, a history major, this summer was his first experience with field archaeology.
“When I’m sitting in a classroom, I’m a student learning about archaeology, but when I’m in a trench excavating, I’m contributing to what we know about the things we talk about in class. Up here on the hill, I’m not really a student. I’m an archaeologist,” Zuber says.
Work in 2011 has revealed further evidence of the site’s destruction in the middle of the sixth century BCE. Students carefully conserved, studied, and documented architectural debris removed from huge pits.
“Sometime around the middle of the sixth century, someone came up here and dismantled the building,” says Tuck. “They took the decorative elements off, smashed them and buried them in pits throughout the area. The site was abandoned and never reinhabited, even though the plateau is one of the best areas for occupation in the entire valley. We don’t know why, but I suppose it’s those kinds of questions that keep us coming back.”