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Etruria from the Air

  • John Bradford

A Century has just elapsed since the now famous Regolini-Galassi tomb at Caere (Cerveteri) was opened by the Archpriest and General whose names A it bears. The beautiful proportions of the silver vessels, the delicate goldwork, and the impressive design of the bronzes, which together formed the sepulchral furniture befitting an Etruscan nobleman of the middle 7th century B.C. came as a coup d’éclut to the academic world, and can still be considered the most splendid ornament of the Museo Etrusco Gregoriano at the Vatican. But the most obvious significance, today, of this centenary is to recall the early history of field-archaeology in Etruria and the problems that have been inherited from it, of which one of the most essential still remains to be dispatched; namely, the preparation of accurate plans of the cemeteries. The difficulties inherent in this are very clearly illustrated by the circumstances (1) of the Kegolini-Galassi discovery and by its consequences. It immediately stimulated extensive excavations for collectors’ trophies at Caere, where the necropolis until then had largely escaped the attentions of early antiquarians and treasure-hunters; activities that at Tarquinia have been characterized as ‘tumultuosi’ by Prof. Nogara, and whose story has been summed up by Prof. Pallottino as ‘singolare e dolorosa insieme’.

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1 According to Randall Maclver (Villanovans and Etruscans, p. 195), ‘No outside observer was present during the 24 hours of feverish activity which sufficed for the clearing of the tomb. No journal was kept, no observations or records were made on the spot and it is not surprising :hat there has been endless error and confusion’. Thanks largely to the labours of Pinza, a detailed nventory of the probable original contents of the tomb was arrived at, 70 years later.

2 The names of the distinguished archaeologists from Italy and other countries who achieved :his result, and their separate contributions, have been summarized for those who study the history of our subject by Prof. B. Nogara, ‘Gli studi etruschi negli ultimo cento anni’, in Boll. Universita Ital. per Stranieri di Perugia, 1939, 3–31; but the same author’s comments in Gli Etruschi e la loro Civilta and Pallottino’s in his Etruscologia are more generally accessible.

3 i.e., Proceeding from the ascertained principles of cause and effect that produce soil-marks and crop-marks, which were tested and shown to be valid on a variety of soils in England. These principles were recently re-stated clearly by Riley in Arch. Journ., 1944. Before the war several Italian archaeologists, notably Professor Lugli, had appreciated that the results obtained by Crawford and Poidebard, under very different circumstances, had a general application within a wide range of terrain and vegetation conditions. See Lugli, ‘L’importanza del rilievo aereo negli studi di topografia archeologica ’, in Atti del V Congresso Nazionale di Studi Romani ; and also Saggi di esplorazione archeologica a mezzo della fotografia aerea (1939).

4 In the clear weather that prevails for most of the year in Italy, crop-marks can be photo graphed from heights of up to 5 miles with excellent results when using an ordinary modern 36 inch focal-length air-camera. There is little doubt that, even in British weather, archaeological (vertical) air-photography can and should operate at very much higher altitudes than those used before the War, because of the economy effected by the great increase in the amount of ground thus covered by each photograph. Low verticals and low obliques would be the final stage, on pre-selected sites. There are big gaps in our distribution maps ; let us try to fill them first.

5 i.e., Tumuli and those forms of tombe a camera that are nearly free-standing. But Mengarelli (Studi Etruschi, vol. 1, p. 148) stated that the tombe a fossa and the pozzetti at Caere had a distinctive stony filling, and so under favourable conditions they might, in a group, give a collective soil-mark. Photographs of the excavations (op. cit., Tav. XII, XIII, XVII) suggest that the increased depth of soil over a wide area which results from their concentration in large numbers could also produce a crop-mark ; such a zone might appear as a large irregular patch differing from its surroundings.

6 Traces of Etruscan buildings in the former city areas have not yet come to my notice, but no doubt a technique of air-photography can be evolved to meet this special problem; possibly low-obliques taken looking towards a setting sun would disclose the course of walls, etc., in the form of ‘shadow-sites’.

7 Even when examining crop-marks, which have no height themselves, stereoscopy is of the greatest assistance especially where their outline is faint, because the original ditches which they represent were usually adapted to the terrain ; and when they are not (e.g. with the crop-marks of Roman centuriated fields in Apulia) it is still a considerable advantage to be able to see them magnified with both eyes at the same time.

8 The Geographical Magasine, February 1947, ‘Air Photography and Geographical Research’, p. 430.

9 Ibid, p. 439.

10 Ibid, p. 438, ‘The amount of information that an interpreter can extract is directly pro portional to his experience. This in turn is dependent on his understanding of air-photographs as a source of information, his knowledge of the subject studied and access to a series of photographs of the same area taken on earlier occasions’.

11 There is no satisfactory published plan of the whole of this necropolis. There is a diagram- atic sketch-map on the cover of the Cerveteri booklet (1940) in the Itinerari dei Musei e Monumenti d’Italia prepared by Prof. Pallottino, and a small-scale map of the site in relation to its environs by Prof. Mengarelli (Studi Etruschi, XI, Tav. V) at 1:60,000 (roughly 1 inch : 1 mile) which shows the suggested limits of the cemeteries by shading but is not intended to be a detailed plan. However, in the Museum on the site there is a valuable large-scale plan of the Banditacchia necropolis, and Professor Mancini (Soprintendente alle Antichita for Southern Etruria) has very kindly informed me that a full publication (with plans) of the areas so far excavated is in preparation by his depart ment, and is to appear in Monumenti Antichi.

12 Tour to the Sepulchres of Etruria in 1839. She made her target ‘Intelligent Englishmen . . . who drawled out that perhaps upon the whole these were worth visiting’. ‘I write for the ignorant and pleasure-loving traveller, and not for the learned and antiquarian’. This is not the language of the Grand Tour of the preceding century but of the educated middle-class beginning to travel from curiosity. Her archaeological chronology was that of her day, but her personal observations, e.g. on contemporary methods of excavation (see below, note 15), are interesting because objective.

13 In the area which includes my Group R, Prof. Pallottino reports only ‘sepolcri sparsi’.

14 The largest tumulus in Prof. Mengarelli’s excavations (= his ‘Tumulus II’) measured c. 130 feet in diameter.

15 Mrs Hamilton Gray gives an interesting eye-witness account of similar proceedings at Veii in 1839. ‘The foreman of the labourers took his pick-axe and struck the ground in many places but it resounded to the tufa’. Eventually ‘the foreman found the earth deep. He then searched about until he came upon tufa and distinctly traced upon the grass the part where the tufa and soil met upon the upper line of a door’. Filling-in might have to be done the next day to restore the land for sheep grazing. ‘When this generation has passed away, what is there to preserve the memory of the ground they hired, searched and filled in again . . . and who is to say what was found in any particular tomb . . . or what ornaments are contemporary and were found together’? (op. cit., p. 93).

16 Monumenti Antichi, XXXVI, Tav. IV-VI at end of volume ; see his column 45, footnote 2 for the impressive list of authorities used.

17 e.g. (i) The track (viottolo) between Arcatelle and Secondi Archi, which is an important landmark, is straight and has no change in direction midway, (ii) The edge of the escarpment (ripa calcarea)—whether the top or bottom is represented—shows a number of discrepancies. (iii) The line of the East arm of the Y-shaped valley (known to have been a via sepolcrale) running from Arcatelle to the Strada Provinciale is much more irregular than is indicated on Tav. VI.

18 Approximate diameters, in feet, of soil-marks for six specimen ploughed-out tumuli indicated an PLATE 2 (1) 50, (2) 30, (3) 60, (4) 50, (5) 60, (6) 25.

19 Pallottino stated that about 100 tumuli are visible between Primi and Secondi Archi. Westphal in 1830 said that some 600 of their gibbous profiles were recognizible on the Monterozzi.

20 About 900 yards SE of the Colle Pantano site are a few possible circular soil-marks near Casa dell’ Uomo Morto (Dead Man’s House).

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