Archive | August, 2011

Digitisation of museum objects

25 Aug

The digitisation of some museum objects from the Regolini-Galassi tomb has started on August 24.  The photographic department of the Vatican Museums has made extensive and specific photography that will allow us to create 3D models, that will be used in the exhibitions in Amsterdam and Leiden (Netherlands) from October 13 2011 onwards.


The restoration expert puts a silver vase on the turntable (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

The objects were put on a turntable and in an object tent that allows to have a very even lighting on the objects.

object tent

Photographing the objects with the object tent (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

As we want the 3D objects to look like new (as we reconstruct the tomb just after closure), most of the work goes into digital restoration of the objects, or by hand modeling based upon the existing or new photography, or by editing the digitised models (made by dense stereomatching of photographs).  The resulting 3D models will be optimised and visualised in real-time with special techniques to obtain a high degree of realism without an excessive amount of data.


The 6-headed lebes nearly ready for photography in the object tent (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

Several objects were documented through the Object VR technique, by photographing the object while it is rotated on a turntable.  In the image below, the 6-headed lebes is recorded in 36 photographs with consecutive rotations of 10 degrees.  These images do not only provide a very detailed documentation of the object but allow also for future use on the internet or in multimedia systems in exhibitions.

Object VR

Documentation of the 5-headed lebes through Object VR photography (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

The Etruscanning team is very greatful to the team of the Vatican museums for the excellent cooperation in this three day digitisation effort.

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.

The tumulus of the Regolini-Galassi tomb

22 Aug

Most of this blog up till now has been devoted to the inside of the Regolini-Galassi tomb? The tomb however was located under a burial mound or tumulus, which we want to show also in the 3D interactive visualisation in Amsterdam and Leiden.  So we need to think about the probable form and looks of this tumulus.


Entrance to the Regolini-Galassi tomb (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

Today, there is very little that remains of the Regolini-Galassi tumulus (see image above). In the 19th century however, there must have been remains of the tumulus still to be seen.  Mrs. Hamilton-Gray describes in her book Tour to the sepulchres of Etruria in 1839 on pg. 330-332 “…and were told that this field had once heen a tumulus like those at Monterone, but that the top was now beaten down, whilst the bottom was raised up. It had been broken to pieces, in order to search in all directions for graves, and its pristine form was gone. I do not know its real name, and therefore I shall call it Monte Regulini. By its side stood several other hillocks, which had once been regular tumuli, but which are now all more or less destroyed.”  She continues the description of her visit to the tomb: “As we descended, we came upon a wall, probably about three feet high, and similar to what we had seen at Monterone, only more finished.” and “The wall had a coping-stone, very neatly worked, and the basement row of stones were much higher and wider than the other rows.”  In other words, it looks like much of the surrounding wall of the tumulus was still present in 1838.

She describes the discovery of the tomb as follows: “The ArciPrete had ideas of his own upon the subject, gained by experience. and by following out which, he came upon one of the most extraordinary discoveries of modern times. He excavated from the top until he arrived at a slope, which by steps had led down to a massive stone door towards the centre of the hillock; this he broke, and behold he had gained the wished-for prize!”  This description already gives us some elements that are useful in the virtual reconstruction of the tumulus.  She describes and sketches also the entrance to the tomb as she had seen it during her field visit in 1838.

Canina and Grifi must also have seen this wall around the tomb and came up with the following reconstruction and ground plan of the RG tumulus. Surprisingly, they don’t indicate the door.  Maybe the complete absence of of remains of the wall at the entrance (as sketched by Mrs. Hamilton-Gray) brought them to not depicting it.  Seen the above information, we can consider the horizontal dimensions of this reconstruction and the position of the tomb within the walls to be fairly accurate.

RG tumulus Canina

Proposed reconstruction of the Regolini-Galassi tumulus by Canina (1846)

plan of RG tumulus by Canina

Ground plan of the Regolini-Galassi tumulus by Canina (1846)

The RG tumulus was covered by a larger tumulus that allowed more burials (presumably from the same family) and was part of a larger necropolis at Sorbo, Cerveteri.  A reconstruction of this necropolis was made by Canina.  In the image below, we see a series of tumuli (that were described by Mrs. Hamilton-Gray) at Sorbo, but also the more known necropolis of Banditaccia (uttermost left) and the Etruscan city of Caere (now Cerveteri).

An evocation of the Sorbo necropolis at Cerveteri by Canina (1846)

Canina made several other reconstructions of Etruscan tumuli, all very similar (see for example the reconstructions of tumuli in Tarquinia). These reconstructions however raise several issues.   First of all, many of these tumuli are highly decorated, although there is only a limited amount of evidence for that. However, Canina depicted the RG tumulus as undecorated, which is probably the safest bet for an early tomb like the RG one.

Secondly, the steepness of the tumulus (51 % at the RG tumulus above) is too high for most soil types to remain stable.  A more conservative estimate is 35-40 %, depending on the soil type and on the presence of grass and vegetation.


Reconstruction drawings of tumuli at Tarquinia by Canina (1840)

Thirdly, it is quite unsure if the form of the tumulus was a nearly pure cone, over 2000 years of erosion has altered every Etruscan tumulus we know today. Maybe the form of the tumuli was much more hemispherical and closer to what we see today (see images below)?


Tumuli at the necropolis of Cerveteri

One reason to believe so can be found at the necropolis of Monterozzi at Tarquinia, where older cinerary urns from the Villanovan culture already have a hemispherical form (see image below) that could have been copied into the later Etruscan tumuli.


Cinerary urns at the necropolis of Monterozzi at Tarquinia (1000-750 BC)

Another possibility is a truncated cone.  Although Silbury hill in Avebury, England is much older (2400 BC), much bigger and comes from a quite different context, it gives us an idea how such a tumulus could have looked like.

Silbury hill

Silbury hill (England)

Above, we already raised the issue that we have no information on the door of the RG tomb (except for the description of Mrs. Hamilton-Gray above).  Nevertheless, it was quite possible that the RG tomb had a door, like nearly every other Etruscan tomb (see image below).  The alternative is that the the entrance was closed by a continuation of the wall  around the tumulus, so that in fact no entrance was visible after the funeral.  This would not only make it much more difficult for looters to find the entrance to the grave, but also resembles the Egyptian approach where no entrances where visible to a pyramid.


Tumulus wall and prominent tomb entrance at the necropolis of San Cerbone in Populonia

Recent research by CNR-ITABC has shown that it is currently very difficult to find out on site how the entrance looked like, more detailed archaeological research is needed. From this research, it looks also like the original floor was more or less level, probably with a few steps when entering.  This is consistent with the eyewitness report from Mrs. Hamilton-Gray (see above) who noted from Regolini “…which by steps had led down to a massive stone door…” but also that no steps were visible anymore when she visited the tomb (which is consistent with this CNR investigation that at the entrance there is currently one meter of deposit of earth, as the floor of the tomb is lower than the terrain).

Many Etruscan tombs today show stairs that seem to go up the mound (see image below).  Probably some rites or sacrifices were performed on top of the mound.  Therefore, the idea of a tumulus in the form of a truncated cone could make sense.


Tumulus B at Cerveteri

Many of those stairs however seem to lead to a platform first and then probably go up the mound.  This is the case in most tumuli that have such a structure attached (see images below).


Tumulus at Cerveteri


Tumulus (7th century BC) at Cerveteri

At the Mellone II tomb in Sodo, Cortona, such a separate platform was found intact in 1990, connected to the tumulus.


Stairs and terraced altar at the Melone II tomb and tumulus at Cortona (6th century BC)


Reconstruction drawing of the Melone II tumulus in Cortona (drawing: Cortona museum)

As the cremation of the princeps most probably happened next to the Regolini-Galassi tomb, it is conceivable that this happened on a special place at the tumulus, such as on the top or on a connected platform.  So it is conceivable that such stairs and/or platform need to be added to the 3D model of the tumulus.

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.

Objects do speak

20 Aug

While we’re preparing for some extra photography and digitisation of objects from the Regolini-Galassi tomb in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, we studied the objects from new photography we kindly received from this museum.  And indeed, the objects do tell us an important story, that can be crucial in the visualisation decisions we need to make for the virtual reconstruction of the Regolini-Galassi tomb in the 7th century BC.

Let’s focus here on two objects that are on display in the museum (see image below). The first object is the bronze holmos, a symbolic replica of a ceramic holmos, that was used in Etruscan times as a stand to warm food and that was put in the tomb for the deceased to be able to continue to feast in the afterlife.  We see that this object is deformed globally and has specific corrosion and deformation marks.  The second object is a bronze lebes, a cauldron that was probably used to serve wine, mixed with honey and spices.  With the lebes on top of the holmos, the rim sits at 1,24 m above ground level, which is quite OK for taking wine from the cauldron.

bronze holmos with lebete

Corrosion and deformation marks on a bronze holmos and lebes from the RG tomb before recent restoration (photo: Vatican Museums)

Corrosion and deformation marks on a bronze holmos and lebes from the RG tomb after recent restoration (photo: Vatican Museums)

Most of the perimeter of the conical foot of the holmos is corroded.  This can be understood easily as the holmos was standing on the damp floor of the tomb. The contact with the soil and the changing humidity in such a tomb trigger chemical processes that oxidise the bronze and corrode it locally.


The foot of the holmos is corroded due to contact with the damp floor (photo: Vatican Museums)

As shown in the image below, the bell shaped top part has a distinct deformation.  We think that this goes together with the corrosion of the foot, that made the holmos fall down and hit something, causing not only this local deformation, but also an overall deformation of the object, as can be observed from the top image.  Such a collapse only can happen if a heavy object such as the lebes was on top of the holmos  and would have reinforced the global and local deformation of the holmos.  From the excavation drawings, we know that the holmos was standing on the slightly sloping dromos, the access to the antechamber.

top detail of holmos

Top part of the holmos with distinct corroded (left) and deformed (right) zones (photo: Vatican Museums)

The top part has also a distinct corrosion pattern that only can be explained if the holmos was lying on the ground, and most of the top part was touching the damp floor of the tomb.  The lebes, that was potentially on top of the holmos, has the same kind of corrosion and deformation patterns (see image below). The object also has hit something significantly and has a large zone that is corroded away, probably through contant with the tomb floor.  As this zone is not the bottom part but a side part of the object, the corrosion is probably not due to the fact that the object was simply placed on the ground when being put in the tomb.  So it is quite possible that the lebes was on top of the holmos, and that both fell down due to the corrosion of the foot part of the holmos.  Both objects can have hit other objects or the wall of the tomb, the lebes can have rolled down the slope of the dromos (which had a steepness of about 5 degrees) to end up on an atypical place somewhere in the antechamber (so that the excavators didn’t see the relationship between the holmos and the lebes).

6-headed lebete

Deformation and corrosion patterns on the 6-headed lebes (photo: Vatican Museums)

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the holmos – although in a restored state – is capable of carrying the smaller six-headed lebes, despite the remarks of Pareti (in the catalogue of the RG tomb objects in 1947) that the holmos is made of a thin sheet of bronze that cannot support the lebetes. This could be true for the larger and much more heavier 5-headed lebetes, but it works for the 6-headed lebes which is much lighter.


Visualisation of the holmos and the 6-headed lebes through 3D dummy objects, separate and on top of each other (Visual Dimension)

We can conclude that both the 6-headed lebes and the bronze holmos contain specific corrosion and deformation patterns that make the hypothesis very plausible that they were together and on top of each other.  Further study will show if these observations are maybe the solution to the first and second Lebetes Mystery?  So, stay tuned and feel free to give your input and observations by posting a reply.

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.

A window on eternity

11 Aug

In a previous entry, we concluded that two people were buried in the Regolini-Galassi tomb, most probably a princeps (cinerary urn in the right niche) and his wife (inhumed in the cella), and that both rooms in the tomb had a triangular window towards the central antechamber.

VR antechamber

Antechamber of the RG tomb with triangular windows to the cella (middle) and right niche (right)

Colonna and Di Paolo (Il letto vuoto, la distribuzione del corredo e la finestra della Tomba Regolini-Galassi, 1997) link these triangular windows to palace architecture in the Levant and Greece in the Bronze and Iron Age (see example below) and link the use of such architecture to the status of the persons buried in this tomb.

Ugarit palace entrance

Entrance to the palace at Ugarit (Wikipedia)

There is plenty of evidence for the triangular window of the cella.  CNR-ITABC will verify from the 3D scan data of the tomb if the stones, that are present in the cella, belonged to the closing wall of the cella.  They look like have the right dimensions to be just that.

interior cella RG tomb

Stones from the closing wall of the cella? (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

The evidence for the triangular window of the right niche is present both in written sources and in the tomb itself.  E. Paschinger writes in Über ein mögliches familiäres Verhältnis der in der Tomba Regolini-Galassi bestattenen Personen in Antike Welt 24 (1993) that the entrance to the right niche was closed by a stone slab, that was found broken in the tomb.  Alessandro Regolini, who excavated the tomb in 1836, writes in 1843 a letter to his colleague Achille Gennarelli, stating  La sola camera a destra, contenente l’olla colle ossa, era fortemente chiusa con pietre del paese”.  The fortemente possibly refers to the fact that the excavators had to break the stone slab to get into the right niche.  If a stone slab had to close the complete entrance (see image below), it needed to have a quite complex, concave form or to consist of at least two pieces.  It looks more logical to put one slab, up to the height where the triangular part begins.

entrance right niche

Laser scan data showing the tomb cross section and the right niche entrance (scan data: CNR-ITABC)

Other evidence that the stone slab only covered the lowered part of the entrance can be found in the entrance itself.  In the vertical part of the entrance sides, we see clearly a zone where the stone recides a few centimeters, providing a space to fit in the stone.  Probably, remains of the plate, or foundations for it, are still protruding out of the floor (see image below).  Note that the floor of the niche is lower than the floor of the antechamber.

laser scan antechamber

Laser scan of the tomb, showing the slot of the stone slab closing the entrance (right) (CNR-ITABC)

Closing the niche with one stone slab probably allowed to do this during the funeral event. Maybe guests at the funeral banquet could enter the grave after the closing of the niche and pay their respect for the last time to the remains of the deceased princeps.  Visibility analysis shows that the opening, that is left after putting the stone slab, perfectly allows to see the cinerary urn and the mourner statuettes around the urn (see images below).  We only can guess that people came into the grave to do this, we will never know for sure…

view on right niche

VR view on the urn by a person of 1,6 m high from the left side of the tomb (Daniel Pletinckx)

view on the right niche

VR view on the urn by a person of 1,6 m high from the right side of the tomb (Daniel Pletinckx)

This brings us also to do visibility analysis on the cella. The closing wall is much higher (1,67 m) but in front of the wall, there is a step of 30 cm high (see image below), formed by the foundation of the closing wall.

VR reconstruction antechamber RG tomb

VR visualisation of the antechamber with triangular windows to the cella (left) and right niche (right)

So maybe we can still look into the cella when standing on the step?  The image below shows that this is not really the case.  Being 1,6 m high and even on the tip of your toes, you don’t see much…

VR view on cella

VR view of the cella by a person of 1,6 m high, on the tip of his toes on the step (Daniel Pletinckx)

After all, a decaying corpse is maybe not what we want to see…

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.

The mystery of the empty bed

9 Aug

Since the excavation of the Regolini-Galassi tomb in 1836, several hypotheses have been developed on how many people were buried in this tomb.  In older publications, most authors considered that 3 people were buried in the grave: a princess (in the cella), a prince (in the antechamber) and a male relative (in the right hand niche in the cinerary urn, as only warriors were cremated).  Mrs. Hamilton-Gray, who visited the tomb in 1838 and spoke with the excavators, wrote in her book Tour to the sepulchres of Etruria in 1839 (pg. 333-334) that human remains were found on the bronze bed (“… Some bones of the corpse lay upon the bier somewhat more than three thousand years old, and perhaps, had the tomb been opened with sufficient care, the corpse of the warrior himself might have been seen with all his graveclothes on, …”).  On the other hand, Alessandro Regolini, as an excavator, denies this claim in 1843 (see the article “Il lette vuoto, la distibuzione del corredo e la finestra della Tomba Regolini-Galassi” by Giovanni Colonna and Elena Di Paolo, 1997).

Today however, most scholars believe that only two people have been buried in the RG tomb: a princeps in the right hand niche (cremation) and his wive in the cella (inhumation).  In other words, scholars of today believe that the bronze bed was empty.  Prof Richard Beacham (King’s College London) coined the very interesting interpretation that the shape of the tomb reflects the shape of an Etruscan or early Roman house and that the empty bronze bed in the central antechamber reflects the Roman (and Etruscan) custom to put an empty bed in the central room of the house to symbolise the marriage.


Ground plan of the RG tomb (by Malgherini)


Traditional Roman house

The key question however is: was the empty bed used during the funeral and did it belong to the man or the woman? In other words, was the corpse of the woman transported on the bed (on the four-wheeled cart) to the tomb, where the body of the woman was put in the cella and the bed and the cart were left in the antechamber? Or was the bed (and the cart) used to transport the corpse of the man to the location of the tomb, where it was cremated, the cinerary urn placed in the right niche and the bed and the cart placed in the antechamber?  Which scenario is most probable?

The answer maybe lies in the pleurantes, 33 small statues in bucchero (black earthware) that depict mourning women.  It is remarkable that these pleurantes are only reported to come from the antechamber and the right niche.  In other words, no pleurantes seem to be found in the cella, and they appear in two groups. Note that these figurines do not have feet, they seem to be designed to be sticked in the ground of the tomb.

bucchero mourners from the RG tomb

Bucchero mourner statuettes from the RG tomb (photo: Vatican Museums)

Not many of those Etruscan figurines are known today.  In the excavations at the Poggio Gallinaro mound in Tarquinia, five similar figurines were found.  Most figurines are shown to be beating their chest, which is typical for the lamentation ritual.

mourners Poggio Gallinaro

Bucchero mourner statuettes from Poggio Gallinaro

If we look at our current virtual reconstruction, we see that there are several objects in the antechamber that could be linked to the woman, not to the man: there is not only the bed (that belonged – in Roman customs – to the mater familias) but also the fire-dogs and the food cart (that has been interpreted as incense burner but to our opinion has much more to do with food than with incense).  The two tripods also have been interpreted as “altars” but  should be interpreted rather as tools related to a banquet (to keep food warm), hence cannot be related to the man only.

VR antechamber

Virtual reconstruction of the antechamber of the RG tomb (Daniel Pletinckx)

There are two distinct groups of mourner figurines, one next to the bed and one around the urn. The first group of mourners is placed only at one side of the bed, giving way to the right niche.  The second group of mourners is placed around the urn. Note that there are two other (iron) fire-dogs in the right niche, next to the urn (see image below).  Note also that the entrance of the right niche was in fact closed by a wall (see above mentioned paper by Colonna) but we left it open for simplicity and visiblity.

right niche

Virtual reconstruction of the right niche of the RG tomb (Daniel Pletinckx)

However, if the entrance of the right niche was only partially closed by a wall, and as the entrance has a very specific shape (see image below), the result would be a similar triangular window as with the cella.  In other words, in both cases, the triangular windows would allow to look into the room where the remains of the deceased are. In a next blog entry, we will visualise this and do visibility analysis for both windows.

entrance right niche

Entrance of the right niche (photo: CNR-ITABC)

So there are two possible scenarios.  The first is that the empty bed, and the objects that surround it, were already placed at the moment of the burial of the woman (including the objects in the left niche). At the burial of the man, the shields were placed on the wall, and the urn (surrounded by a second group of mourner figurines), the biga and the fire-dogs were placed in the right niche. This niche was partially closed, allowing people to look through the triangular window at the cinerary urn.

The second hypothesis is that, at the burial of the woman, all objects are placed in the cella, and the cella is closed by the wall before or at the funeral.  The window in the wall allows the people at the funeral banquet to have a last view at the deceased. At the burial of the man, the corpse of the man is transported on the bed and cart to the grave and is cremated there. The bed and all other objects in the antechamber and left and right hand niche are placed, the right niche is partially closed and the funeral banquet is held. People can enter the grave (see image below) to have a last look at the cinerary urn (see image above).  Putting the bronze bed in the tomb – as a new home – is relevant if the man and the woman were a couple.

antechambre before closing

Virtual reconstruction of the antechamber at the funeral banquet (Daniel Pletinckx)

Once the funeral is over, the cart and other objects related to the funeral banquet are stored in the tomb (see image below) and the tomb is closed. Personally, we prefer the second hypothesis, but we invite specialists to give us their view and assessment.

antechamber after closing

Virtual reconstruction of the antechamber after the funeral banquet (Daniel Pletinckx)

Note that in the reconstructions above, we have applied the exact measures of the shields, resulting in the fact that they cannot be placed like depicted by Grifi and Canina. Instead we have chosen to place them on both sides of the antechamber. Of course, there are other possibilities but as the bed ends up in the middle of the antechamber, a symmetrical ordening does make sense.  Note also that we have added the lost tripods and added the silver situla, hanging in the window between antechamber and cella, as described by Alessandro Regolini in 1843 (see article of Collona, mentioned above).

VR antechamber

Virtual reconstruction of the antechamber and window of the RG tomb (Daniel Pletinckx)


Silver situla from the RG tomb (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

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.