A mysterious fibula – revisited

14 Jul

Interpretation and virtual reconstruction of cultural heritage is very much like being a detective. Sometimes we are convinced about a certain possibility but in the back of our head, we have a small voice that wispers we could be wrong…

What is bothering me is the bottom part of the fibulae, that is sitting as a kind of cap over the nose of the deceased.  It all fits, it all has the right size, the early excavation reports says the fibula was found at the position of the head, but still, is there not a second possibility ?

Yesterday, I found a publication that discusses the Regolini-Galassi and the Ponte Sodo fibulae, that we analysed in the previous blog entry.  This publication dismisses the use on the head and proposes the use of the fibula on the abdomen of the female deceased.  If positioned this way, the fibula would fit just under the breastplate.  A possible meaning would be as follows.  The large disk represents the womb of the woman, the horizontal river acts as a kind of belt and the bottom “cup” covers the female genitalia.

While Grifi in his earliest publication (probably 1836) still depicts the fibula at the position of the head, in his 1841 publication, he leaves the question open and doesn’t depict the fibula at all (see image below).


The cella of the Regolini-Galassi tomb by Grifi (1841)

Canina in his publication in 1846 (see image below ) puts the fibula in the alternative position, but upside down…

Tomba R-G da Canina_cella

The cella of the Regolini-Galassi tomb by Canina (1846)

A second question that goes with that is how the shroud was used. Many Etruscan depictions of the deceased show them wearing a shroud but not over the head.  A few murals however show a shroud that is also put on the head (see image below) so that it would be conceivable that the shroud was closed over the face.


In the Tomb of the Monkey in Chiusi, the deceased woman follows the funeral games from the bier

So, what is the most logical and probable solution?  We need to make a choice very soon to implement it in the 3D reconstruction…

Anyway, those archaeologists in 1836 didn’t have an easy job either.  Below is a drawing, made in 1843, that evocates how the RG tomb looked like when they started excavations (as we noted before, a part of the roof had collapsed).  What we are discussing here, was lying under this pile of stones…

the RG tomb at excavation

The cella of the Regolini-Galassi tomb at excavation in 1836, by Samuel James Ainsley in 1843 (image: British Museum)

This blog is part of the Etruscanning project, that is been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.



5 Responses to “A mysterious fibula – revisited”

  1. Orlando Cerasuolo July 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    your tentative virtual reconstruction of the Regolini-Galassi tomb, with all the original objects inside, is a very interesting challenge.
    I just completed my PhD in Archaeology (Etruscology) focused on early orientalizing tombs of Cerveteri (720-630 a.C.), so I studied the Regolini-Galassi tomb, such as all the other contemporaneous tombs. I hope to give a contribution to the reconstruction with mine following notes.

    MODEL vs. SCAN. Why instead of prepare a geometric semplified model of the tomb don’t you use a 3D-scan of the interior of the structure (which is possible to visit nowadays)? That is important for the reconstruction: you assumed, for example, that the floor of the dromos was flat, but -though seems strange- every drawing shows a sloping floor. The problem that arise is: could objects -like the holmos- stand up on such sloping floor?

    SHIELDS. For the shields of the left wall, at the end of the dromos, I think that they had to be placed vertically one over the other, overlapping.

    HOLMOI and TRIPODS. In my opinion it is very unlikely that metallic or even ceramic holmoi (or hypokrateria) were used to cook or to warm food: they were primarily used as ‘stands’. Consider that many holmoi have bulbs separated by orizontal wall, so it was not possible for hot air to pass and warm the upper cauldron (on ceramic holmoi see: G. Benedettini in Studi Etruschi, LXIII, 1997, pp. 3-73; on metal holmoi from Palestrina and Olimpia see: Raubitschek, ‘Isthmia VII’, 1998, p. 86, note 45). On the other hand it is very convincing consider tripods as stands (with vessels on) for warming perfumes or foods (as H. Gray wrote).
    Anyway, please, can you summarize again which is the situation of holmoi, tripods and cauldrons? How many they are? In which room do you think they were?

    FIBULA. We still know very little about etruscan burial customs (sad but true!). The new and suggestive hypothesis about the huge fibula -as a kind of solar disk applied over the face of the deceased to close the shroud- must be much more proved. For example it would be very useful a frontal drawing of the fibula put on the face: absolutely the pin have not to interfere with the princess nose! It is not enough to consider the lightly asimmetry of the bow of the fibula to prove that.
    Anyway, the strongest argument seems to me the presence of the Hator face on the bottom of the fibula bow (but this it is not present on the other two fibulas you talk about…).

    In general, it will be better to consider more the troubles that the Regolini Galassi tomb had during the excavation and after. No one of the scholar that first wrote about the tomb and drawn plan and sections (Grifi, Canina, Gray, Dennis, Pareti, etc.) have ever seen the tomb during the excavation! They only visited the empty tomb some time after the discovery and had secondary reports from priest Regulini, general Galassi and the humble workers (for some considerations about this see Colonna-di Paolo in “Etrusca et italica”, 1997, pp. 131-171; however Pareti 1947 it is generally consider the best report of the tomb). This may explain much of the differences and missings in texts and drawings, that I think we will never solve. For this, why don’t you consider to visualize alternative reconstructions in the 3D representation of the exhibition? They will be only two or three alternatives (following Canina, Grifi or Pareti) in the setting of the problematic objects, so that people could shift visulization during the performance.

    Thank you for your precious job!
    I’m waiting for your next post

    • danielpletinckx July 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

      Many thanks Orlando for replying to this post, we really appreciate your expertise and cooperation.
      Concerning the model of the tomb, we have laserscanned the tomb a few weeks ago (blog entry on this comes very soon). Also the objects of the RG tomb will be digitised in the coming weeks in the Vatican museum. For the time being, we work with temporary dummy objects, for the tomb and for the objects as time is short and we wanted to start the reconstruction process. We will show the final 3D result in two exhibitions in Amsterdam and Leiden from October 13 onwards.
      Concerning the holmos and lebeti, see the next blog, to appear tomorrow. I think we really need to distinguish between operational holmoi and symbolic ones in graves (like the bronze one in the RG tomb).
      Concerning the RG fibula, I will make a blog entry with some more ideas, but I’m basically a civil engineer who is specialised in virtual reconstruction and needs to master this topic in a few months, so I really appreciate help from specialists in this very complex topic.

    • danielpletinckx August 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      Hi Orlando, we’re working on a 3D model where the disc fibula hypothesis, that we presented here, will be shown in 3D. Keep an eye on this blog !


  1. First version of the interactive application « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - October 10, 2011

    […] showed that such a fibula was rather placed on the abdomen, we stick in our visualisation to the second hypothesis we have proposed, in favour of placing the fibula on the face (see image below). View on the disc […]

  2. The Disc Fibula revisited « Virtual reconstruction of Regolini-Galassi tomb - December 11, 2011

    […] splendid objects that is shown in this VR application is a large golden disc fibula, that is shown on the body of the deceased princess that was buried in the Regolini-Galassi tomb. Golden disc fibula from the Regolini-Galassi tomb, […]

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