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The Tomb of the Silver Hands

Long-buried evidence of an Etruscan noble family

July/August 2014



In the nineteenth century, the ancient tombs of Vulci, some 75 miles northwest of Rome and 25 miles west of Viterbo, were a stop on travelers’ Grand Tour of Europe. Since the late eighteenth century, when the first official excavations were undertaken on the orders of Cardinal Guglielmo Pallotta, numerous burials, ranging from the simple to the spectacular, had been found in the area. In the Necropoli dell’Osteria, roughly translated as the “Necropolis of the Pub,” travelers encountered impressively built and richly decorated burials dating from the seventh to fourth centuries B.C. belonging to the Etruscan culture that had once inhabited the region. Some of the tombs had evocative names given to them in contemporary times in order to attract more visitors. There was the Tomb of the Sun and the Moon, the Tomb of the Inlaid Ceiling, and the Tomb of the Panathenaica, named after the sacred athletic and literary games held every four years in Athens to celebrate the goddess Athena.


Etruscan-Tomb-Archaeologists-PithoiDespite their popularity 150 years ago, however, the tombs were abandoned as a tourist destination and, ultimately, lost. “The Tomb of the Sun and the Moon was the most important funerary complex in the area, and we know the area was open for visitors until the middle of the nineteenth century,” says archaeologist Carlo Casi, who manages the Vulci archaeological park on behalf of the local archaeological superintendency of Etruria Meridionale. “But since then it has literally been swallowed up by nature.”


Three years ago, Casi and his team set out to rediscover the Tomb of the Sun and the Moon using topographic maps of the area, some of which were drawn in the nineteenth century. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find the tomb again, probably because the people who drew the maps of the area made some errors in locating it,” says Casi. But as is often the case in archaeology, although they began looking for one thing, Casi and his team found something else entirely: more than twenty small graves and tombs and two larger funerary complexes, the most spectacular of which, both in contents and in name—the Tomb of the Silver Hands—rivals anything found previously at the site.



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Discoveries at the “Necropolis of the Pub”



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