When archaeologists discovered the first ever Etruscan pyramid-like buildings under a city in Italy, they were at a loss to explain the mysterious structures.
Three years ago a team of U.S. and Italian archaeologists began excavations under a wine cellar in Orvieto, Italy, after identifying stairs carved into a wall as Etruscan style. As they dug through mid-20th century and medieval walls and floors, they encountered tunnels and caves. These large chamber walls were carved to slope up in a pyramidal shape.
|Etruscan Pyramid columbarium, used as a working lab,
and filled with artifacts. Credit: Daniel George, Jr./Popular Archaeology
Popular Archaeology reports on the initial reactions of Prof. David B. George of St. Anselm College and Claudio Bizzarri, co-director of PAAO (Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell’Orvietano) and colleagues, “We discovered it three summers ago and still have no idea what it is. We do know what it is not. It is not a quarry; its walls are too well dressed. It is not a well or cistern; its walls have no evidence of hydraulic treatments.”
The Etruscans created and shaped many subterranean paths and cave chambers, but until this discovery none had ever been found that were in such a distinctive form, with a narrow apex that slopes and widens into a square base.
|Archaeology team excavates the Etruscan ‘Pyramids’. Credit: Daniel George, Jr./Popular Archaeology|
Etruscans are largely an historical enigma, emerging as a sophisticated culture around 900 BC in central Italy, and bringing art, fine metalworking, commerce, and writing to Europe and the Mediterranean. However, the society did not survive, and they were blended into the Roman empire, leaving few clues as to their culture.
|A medieval chamber for raising pigeons, called a columbarium, filled with excavated pottery. Credit: Daniel George, Jr./Popular Archaeology|
The mystery of the Etruscan pyramids continues to perplex researchers, with guesses as to their purpose including religious structures, or tombs. Bizzarri told Discovery News, “Most likely, the answer waits at the bottom. The problem is we don’t really know how much we have to dig to get down there.”
For more information on the Orvieto sites and the ongoing excavation, visit DigUmbria.com