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Bill Thayer

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An Etruscan tomb near Vetulonia:
la Tomba della Fibula d'oro


[image ALT: A dirt corridor about 4 meters long between weathered rough stone walls. It is a partial view of the Etruscan tomb of the Fibula d' Oro at Vetulonia, in Tuscany (central Italy).]

Tourist snapshots by a very grey January day, of an unprepossessing ruin of a place with a grand name, the Tomb of the Golden Brooch. The name tips us off: this Etruscan tomb is most interesting not for its construction but for what it contained — a wonderful golden clasp decorated with animal figures in what is now called the Orientalizing Style now kept in the recently renovated Museo Archeologico Isidoro Falchi, named for the self-taught amateur archaeologist who in the 1880s and 1890s spent several years studying archives and documents, tracked down to this place the long-lost Etruscan city of Vetulonia (the last of the Twelve Cities to be found), and confirmed it by discovering and excavating several tombs, among them this one. Also found in this tomb, several pieces of bucchero-ware, perfume bottles, and dice.

The tomb itself is of the type called a "corridor tomb": a corridor (or dromos) leads to the small circular area where the deceased were actually inhumed. That area, archaeologists tell us, was spanned by a tholos, or false dome, of which nothing remains — probably due to Falchi's unscientific digging methods which would not be acceptable today; false because the cupola was in fact just a series of progressively smaller rings of stones: for a small space, that will work quite nicely. The rudimentary pillar or omphalos was always free-standing: it did not support the vault and was not meant to, but, we are told, was purely symbolic, a sort of tree bridging the world of the dead and the world of the living.

You should of course imagine the tomb with its lost roof and probably a covering of soil: what we now see in the open air would have been in pitch darkness underground.


[image ALT: A rectangular walled stone pit about 1.4 meters deep and the area of a small bedroom, with a stone pillar, about 1.6 meters tall, standing in the center of it. In the background, a tree, maybe a eucalyptus, towers over the scene. It is a view of the Etruscan tomb of the Fibula d' Oro at Vetulonia, in Tuscany (central Italy).]

[image ALT: A stone pillar, about 1.6 meters tall, standing in the center of a bedroom-sized plot of grass, surrounded by rough stone walls only slightly less tall. It is the omphalos of the Etruscan tomb of the Fibula d' Oro at Vetulonia, in Tuscany (central Italy).]


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Page updated: 26 Apr 19