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Leaping to conclusions: archaeology, gender and digital news media

  • Lucy Shipley (a1)

In the autumn of 2013, a discovery was made in the Doganaccia necropolis close to the ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinia. A sepulchre was uncovered, mercifully and unusually unlooted. Inside were the remains of two individuals and a range of grave goods, allowing the tomb to be typologically dated to the late seventh or early sixth century BC. One of the individuals had been cremated, while the other was laid out in a supine position. Both were placed on funeral benches similar to those known from Etruscan tombs across the region (Steingräber 2009). This excavation was as unusual as it was spectacular—the equally vigorous efforts of nineteenth-century enthusiasts (Leighton 2004: 12) and twentieth-century tomb robbers (van Velzen 1999: 180) have left little of the Etruscan burial record undisturbed. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of media excitement over the burial, as its excavator, distinguished Etruscan scholar Alessandro Mandolesi, spoke with the press of his impressions of the remains and their relationship to the artefacts found in the tomb. Little of his exact words remain in the public sphere, but the impression he provided to the press was clear in the flurry of media reports that followed his statement. The ensuing media interest and archaeological developments present a number of serious issues for the practice of archaeology in an age in which digital media can magnify the impact of any major discovery. In addition, the interpretation put forward exposed the continued androcentrism inherent in many sub-disciplines of archaeology, which, 30 years on from Conkey and Spector's (1984) transformative publication, remain locked in deeply problematic interpretative patterns. This interpretation of the Tarquinia burial is emblematic of a far wider phenomenon, both within and beyond Italy, which has serious implications for future archaeological practice. This article unpicks both the media storm and interpretative paradigms that characterised this case study, and queries archaeological responsibility and visibility in an age of 24-hour news.

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