Tag Archives: Etruscan funeral customs

Etruscanning 3D at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome

4 Aug

Objects from the Regolini Galassi tomb

Objects from the Regolini Galassi tomb on display

The Regolini Galassi tomb application was shown in Rome from the 15th of April till the 20th of July 2014 in the context of the exhibition Les Etrusques et la Méditerranée. La cité de Cerveteri/Gli Etruschi e il Mediterraneo. La città di Cerveteri, together with more than 450 masterpieces of the Etruscan culture.

Etruscanning system

The Etruscanning system at the exhibition in PalaExpo (photo: Eva Pietroni)

This exhibition showed several precious objects belonging to the Regolini-Galassi grave goods, together with the Sarcophagus of the Spouses (from the Louvre), the sculpted group of Greppe S. Angelo, terracotta objects from the museums of Berlin, Copenhagen and the Vatican Museum, finds from the Pyrgi sanctuary and some of the most recent discoveries carried out in the urban area of Cerveteri, in the necropolis and in the surrounding territories.  The exhibition showed the relationships that Etruscans had in the Mediterranean area through the history of Cerveteri, one of their most important cities. This exhibition was curated by F. Galulier, L. Haumesser, P. Santoro, V. Bellelli, A. Russo Tagliente and R. Cosentino.

Etruscanning system in action

The Etruscanning system in action (photo: Eva Pietroni)

The exhibition has been jointly organized by Louvre Lens and Palaexpo, thanks to the collaboration between the Département des antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines of the Louvre, the Istituto di studi sulle civiltà italiche e del Mediterraneo antico of the CNR and the Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici dell’Etruria meridionale.  It had already been hosted in the Louvre Lens from the 5th December 2013 till the 10th of March 2014.

child using the Etruscanning system

A child using the Etruscanning system (photo: Eva Pietroni)

2013 in review

5 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The holmos and lebes digitally restored

28 Nov

The bronze holmos of the Regolini-Galassi tomb is a very elaborated and beautiful object that has suffered significant damage and corrosion.

bronze holmos

Bronze holmos from the Regolini-Galassi tomb (photo: Vatican Museums)

To reveal the beauty of this object, we have unwrapped its decoration and used this image to create the line drawing of the engraved decoration.  Based upon this engraving and upon detailed study of the applied embossing, we have created a displacement map of the decoration of each of the parts of the holmos.

holmos unwrapped texture

Unwrapped decoration of the holmos cone (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The displacement map is created in the same way as for the other objects: we simulate the engraving and embossing process in different layers of a Photoshop image, that is overlaid on the unwrapped texture.

Depth map holmos cone

Displacement map of the holmos cone (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The displacement map is transformed into a normal map in Unity3D, giving a very nice real time rendering of the bronze object.


Digitally restored holmos, placed in the Regolini-Galassi tomb (image: CNR-ITABC)

Digitally restored holmos, placed in the Regolini-Galassi tomb (image: CNR-ITABC)


Digitally restored holmos, placed in the Regolini-Galassi tomb (image: CNR-ITABC)

The 6-headed lebes also suffered deformation and damage, so we performed digital restoration on this object as well.

6-headed lebes

Bronze six-headed lebes from the Regolini-Galassi tomb (photo:Vatican Museums)

In this case, we derived the unwrapped texture from a 3D model that was made from dense stereo matching on a set of photographs taken with an object tent.

3D photography of the lebes

Photography of the lebes in an object tent for creating the 3D model (photo: Vatican Museums)

detail of lebes

Detail of the engraving of the lebes (photo: Vatican Museums)

We first identified the full engraving of the lebes on the unwrapped texture, completing the missing parts.  Then, we painted the embossed features in a similar way as the other objects, through observation of those features on the many photographs taken.


Displacement map superimposed upon the unwrapped texture of the lebes (image: Visual Dimension bvba)

The displacement map was imported in Unity3D and translated into a normal map for real time visualisation (see images below, compare with images above).  All digitally restored objects are integrated in the new version of the application.

digitally restored six-headed lebes

Digitally restored six-headed lebes (image:CNR-ITABC)

Digitally restored six-headed lebes

Digitally restored six-headed lebes (image:CNR-ITABC)

This blog is part of the Etruscanning 3D project, that is being partially 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.


An observation on disc fibulae

5 Apr

In a previous post, we outlined some ideas on the meaning of the disc fibula of the Regolini-Galassi tomb and of related disc fibulae as a symbol of rebirth, and we proposed a possible origin of that symbol in the Middle East.  In a recent visit to the archaeological museum of Bologna, we found only one similar disc fibula although there are hundreds of fibulae on display in this museum. The simularity of this fibula is only superficial as it has the disc and the bow, but does miss the metal piece (or an attachment point) that symbolises the river.  Also, this fibula is probably Celtic, not Etruscan.

Disc fibula Bologna

The only disc fibula in the archaeological museum of Bologna

We also observed that in this museum nearly no golden or silver objects are present.  This looks like an additional support for the proposed idea. As the Bologna area did not have the gold and silver mines that Etruria had, there must have been less contact from this area with the Middle East, hence less influence by those cultures.  As we proposed that disc fibulae, such as the one in the Regolini-Galassi tomb, symbolise rebirth and as this concept was imported from the Middle East, it sounds logical that no such disc fibulae seem to have been found in the Bologna area.  Also the influence of Etruria in this region happens in the 6th century BC, later than the orientalising period in the 8th and 7th century where we need to situate the use of these special disc fibulae.  Again, all this needs to be proved by further research by specialists of Etruscan culture.

The new museum Palazzo Pepoli in Bologna, that opened on January 28, 2012 tells the story of the city of Bologna, from a Villanovan settlement to the city of today.  The museum contains a nice stereo 3D movie, made by CINECA, that features an Etruscan character called Apa, who was modelled on a flute player, depicted on a bronze situla from Certosa in the archaeological museum of Bologna.

Certosa situla in Bologna

Admiring the Certosa situla in the archaeological museum in Bologna

Detail of Certosa situla

Detail of the Certosa situla, showing the Apa character as flute player

Apa in archaeological museum of Bologna

Apa in the archaeological museum of Bologna

The Disc Fibula revisited

11 Dec

The ongoing exhibition Etruscans at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam and the National Museum for Antiquities in Leiden brings together many splendid Etruscan objects from several Italian museums.  Through the Etruscanning VR application, many more objects are shown in a digital way.  One of the most 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.

disc fibula

Golden disc fibula from the Regolini-Galassi tomb, dated 675-650 BC (photo: Vatican Museums)

Only a few similar objects are known (see two images below).  Maurizio Sannibale, the curator of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, where this large disc fibula resides, considers this object as a symbol of the transition from life (the top disc) to the afterlife (the bottom curved element) over the rivers (the middle bars) that separate the world and the underworld.

disc fibula München

Disc fibula from Ponte Sodo (Staatliche Antikensammlungen 2331, München)

In this double exhibition in Amsterdam and Leiden, several objects are shown from the Etruscan collection of the Allard Pierson museum itself.  Three of them are nice but small disc fibulae in bronze, that resemble another small disc fibula in gold in the British Museum, probably coming from Etruria.

disc fibula British Museum

Etruscan disc fibula in gold, dated 825-775 BC (photo: British Museum)

disc fibula British Museum

Detail Etruscan disc fibula, dated 825-775 BC (photo: British Museum)

However, these disc fibulae from the Allard Pierson Museum reveal an important secret.  As can be seen on the photograph below, all three fibulae are very similar in shape, structure and size to the one in British Museum.

disc fibulae APM

Three Etruscan disc fibulae from the Allard Pierson Museum (photo: Christie Ray)

Only the fibula on the left (see image above) has a middle part that depicts the river and has a slightly different bow.  All three fibulae carry the same decoration (see images below) as the one in British Museum: the  squares (maybe sun crosses) or swastikas on the top disc, the two or three bands that surround the top disc and seem to depict rivers through zigzag lines, the zigzag lines on the middle horizontal bar, probably depicing water and the zigzag lines on the bottom bow part.  When we compare these four small disc fibulae with the two bigger ones that are depicted above, we see a striking analogy of the same symbols that appear on the same parts with very similar shapes.  If we assume that the top disc depicts the world, this reveals the known depiction of the world surrounded by water on all sides, which is the first world model from the Bronze Age .

disc fibula APM

Close-up view of left disc fibula (photo: Christie Ray)

disc fibula APM

Close-up view of middle disc fibula (photo: Allard Pierson Museum)

disc fibula APM - detail

Detail of middle disc fibula with swastikas (photo: Allard Pierson Museum)

Closer inspection also reveals that the middle and the right fibula had also a horizontal bar attached on the small bow that protrudes just below the disc (see image above). In other words, we can assume quite safely that all fibulae shown here had a horizontal bar. This makes the similarity even more striking. Note the horizontal bar probably detached easily as the surface of the small bow, on which it was soldered, was very small, hence proving that such fibulae were used for funeral purposes only.

Based on this knowledge, we can identify many more disc fibulae that have the same characteristics: the disc (world) surrounded by sets of lines (water, rivers) and carrying depictions of life or swastikas, the small bow, to which the horizontal bar (river) was attached (but which is easily lost) and the bow, on which zigzag lines seem to depict water. Below, we show one from British Museum, which is older than the other fibulae shown above.

disc fibula British Museum

Disc fibula, dated 1000-880 BC, from Italy (photo: British Museum)

disc fibula British Museum

Disc fibula, dated 1000-880 BC, from Italy (photo: British Museum)

Many more fibulae can be identified if we allow a slightly wider variety of depictions of the same symbols. In the one below, from British Museum, the disc fibula below symbolises the waters around the “world” through one single ripple, very similar to the Ponte Sodo fibula shown above, while the water on the bow is symbolised through discs.

disc fibula British Museum

Disc fibula, dated 800-700BC, from Italy (photo: British Museum)

disc fibula British Museum

Disc fibula, dated 800-700BC, from Italy (photo: British Museum)

So, what has this to do with the virtual reconstruction of the Regolini-Galassi tomb?  We have proposed two hypotheses concerning the placement of the fibula on the body of the deceased: or it is placed on top of the face, or it is placed on the abdomen.

From the analysis above, we can conclude that the Regolini-Galassi disc fibula is not a decorative object, adorning the body of the deceased, but relates to an old symbol that seems to carry a consistent message of transition to afterlife, as the decoration and shape of these fibulae remain nearly identical over several centuries.

When trying to interpret this particular shape and decoration, we can make the link to the belief of the Etruscans that dying was being reborn.  We could interpret the bow of these fibulae as the expanded abdomen or “baby bump” of women, the water symbol on the bow as depicting the water that surrounds the fetus.  As each of the three parts of the fibulae carries the symbol of water, they probably also stress that water is the symbol of life, from birth to death.

In this sense, these fibulae probably can be compared to an Iron age bronze fibula from a grave in Lorestan, Iran, on which a woman is giving birth.

Lorestan fibula Louvre

Lorestan fibula, Iran, dated 1500-700 BC (photo: Louvre museum, Paris)

To conclude, we can state that the Regolini-Galassi disc fibula has a much higher chance of being positioned on the abdomen than being positioned on the face, not only because of size of the object but especially because of the symbolism of the object.

This blog is part of the Etruscanning project, that is being 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.


Update on the 3D reconstruction of the RG tomb

2 Sep

We made an update of the 3D model of the Regolini-Galassi tomb, implementing the latest conclusions and adding the objects that still were missing.  Recent research by CNR-ITABC has shown that there is a floor under the current deposit of mud and that the dromos (entrance area of the grave) was still sloping downward (at a few degrees) towards the antechamber that has a level floor.  This aspect has not been implemented in this reconstruction yet for simplicity.  As explained in a earlier post, we choose to put the 6-headed lebes on top of the bronze holmos.

tomb 010911 1

View on the dromos (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

tomb 010911 4

View on the antechamber (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

We reconstructed the biga (war chariot) and have put it inside the right niche, next to the cinerary urn that contains the ashes of the warrior.  We verified that the reconstructed biga, as present in the storage of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (but not currently on display as there are some doubts about the reconstruction), can enter the tomb and the niche when taken apart.  The beam that connects the chariot to the horses (see photograph below) is not depicted but could fit inside the niche.

tomb 010911 11

View inside the right niche (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)


Reconstructed biga, based upon remains in the right niche (photo: Vatican Museums)

The left niche has a large collection of storage vessels (ollae) and other utilitarian vessels (many of the smaller ones are not depicted).  The bronze vessel in the foreground (see image below) is a Villanovan urn that is clearly older than the other objects in the tomb, probably containing the ashes of an ancestor (see also photograph below).  We also have put there the Etruscan inkpot (see also photograph below) that is said to have been found in the Regolini-Galassi tomb.  The object is quite fascinating, as it is covered by Etruscan writing, but its function and its provenance are quite unclear.  This delicate object looks like it does not belong to a storage room, maybe it should go into the cella or the right niche, as very little is known were it was found during the excavation.

tombe 010911 13

View inside the left niche (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

Villanovan urn

Bronze Villanovan urn from the RG tomb (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)


Small bucchero vase - so called inkpot - with Etruscan inscriptions (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

We started putting in also most of the larger objects in the cella.  As explained in an earlier post, we have choosen to put the two large lebetes on their respective tripods in the cella.  We have added several paterae, a ribbed one (only partially preserved), an undecorated one (see photograph below), and a silver kylix (shallow bowl with foot, see photograph below) plus a set of bronze vessels (see photograph below).

tomb 010911 15

View inside the cella (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

silver patera

Undecorated silver patera - unrestored - with nail in the middle (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)


Silver kylix with golden handles and nail (middle bottom) (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

ten bronze basins

A set of ten bronze vessels from the RG tomb (photo: Vatican Museums)

On the floor, we have put a large collection of silverware, that is most probably related to the funeral banquet.  Most of these splendid objects therefore suffered from corrosion or from the partial collapse of the roof.

tomb 010911 18

View inside the cella with a large set of silver vessels on the floor (3D reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

silver bowl

One out of five silver bowls (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

silver kotyle

One out of six silver kotyle vases (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

silver pitcher

One out of two silver pitchers (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

silver vase

Small silver vase with golden handles (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

Some objects nevertheless remain enigmatic. For example, there are four nearly identical decorated bronze discs (see image below), two discs have a lion walking to the left, the other two have a lion walking to the right.  Currently, there is no idea what these discs are or how they were used.  They are too small (40 cm diameter) to be considered as shields, and don’t have the right form to be considered as paterae.

bronze disc

One of four, nearly identical, bronze decorated discs (photo: Daniel Pletinckx)

All four discs have nail holes, like many other objects in the RG tomb. These nail holes however are quite different, they appear in pairs all around the rim (see image below) and are quite small. The nails are in bronze and appear to have fixed the disc on a softer material than stone, probably wood.  The object should be symmetrical to accomodate these 2 by 2 identical discs.  At this moment however, there is no object in the RG tomb that could have served as an obvious basis for these discs.

nail holes

One of the bronze discs with indication of the nail holes (photo: Vatican Museums)

Until recently, a reconstruction of the 4-wheeled chariot, that was used probably to transport the corpse of the warrior, was presented in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in the Vatican.  Currently, it isn’t on display anymore as the museum wants to revise the reconstruction. This chariot is currently the only known object in the tomb that could be asscociated with these four bronze discs.  The discs could fit on the wheels and cover the protruding wheel axes. Below, you will find the 3D dummy model of this reconstructed chariot without and with the discs.

cart without discs

Current reconstruction of the 4-wheeled chariot (reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

cart with discs

Alternative reconstruction of the 4-wheeled chariot with the bronze discs attached to the wheels (reconstruction: Visual Dimension)

The result is plausible but not really convincing, the discs are somewhat too small (40 cm diameter) to fit on the presumed wheels (67 cm diameter).  Research needs to be conducted on other chariots from other tombs.

It is considered quite improbable that the discs would have been fitted on the outside of the biga.  So, there aren’t any other alternatives available for the moment, it is completely unclear on what object these discs go.  If you have any idea, please do leave a reaction!

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.