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ARCHAEOLOGY

The man behind the Etruscan tomb discovery

After years of research and digging, archaeologists in Tarquinia, central Italy, have unearthed the 2,700-year-old tomb of a presumed Etruscan warrior prince. This stupendous achievement is largely down to one man: Lorenzo Benini.

The man behind the Etruscan tomb discovery
The skeleton of the presumed Etruscan prince and Pietro Del Grosso from Tecnozenith di Saluzzo with Lorenzo Benini (R): University of Turin.

Who is Lorenzo Benini?

He’s a 53-year-old Florentine entrepreneur with a passion for archaeology. An economics graduate, Benini is currently both a university professor and the managing director of the logistics and shipping company, Kostelia, where he heads a team of 20 employees.

But his idea of the perfect day off, unlike many businessmen, doesn't involve alcohol, good food and an Italian beach. Instead, he'd far rather pull on an Indiana Jones-style get-up and spend the day sifting through dirt and stones, looking for ancient relics.

Why is he in the news?

Benini, along with his team of archaeologists from the University of Turin and the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Southern Eritruria, uncovered a 2,700-year-old Etruscan burial site last weekend in Tarquinia, central Italy.

In fact, if it weren't for Benini, the excavation probably wouldn't even have gone ahead – as he financed it himself.

Since the discovery, he seems to have become a national treasure himself, featuring in numerous articles about the discovery.

What did they find inside the tomb?

Inside the tomb, the team found the skeleton of a man who is believed to be of noble origin, lying on a stone platform.

In addition, the archaeologists found gold jewellery, seals, a lance, a javelin, vases and other ornamental objects suggesting he could be of royal status.

Speaking to Il Messaggero newspaper, Alessandro Mandolesi, professor of antiquity at the University of Turin, said the most striking object they found in the tomb was an ‘aryballos’ [a type of vase], found hanging on a nail.

Click here to view a gallery of the discovery

How important is the discovery?

Well, according to excavation leader Alessandro Mandolesi of the University of Turin, very important indeed.

“It’s an unique discovery, as it’s extremely rare to find an inviolate Etruscan tomb of an upper-class individual,” Mandolesi told Discovery News. “It opens up huge study opportunities on the Etruscans.”

In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Mandolesi said that the last time a comparable tomb had been discovered intact was more than 30 years ago, but that it collapsed before it could be excavated.

"This one is completely intact and may well reveal further surprises," he added.

The discovery must have been quite an experience…

Judging from his interview with Corriere della Sera, Benini was profoundly moved.

“That air from another age, another life, another world, another dimension, pierced through my lungs and flooded my brain with unutterable sensations,” he told the paper. “My hands were shaking and I almost fainted.”

According to reports, Benini was the first to enter the unexplored tomb. Describing the moment, he said: “I looked at [the skeleton] with compassion and a strange love that I’ve never felt in my lifetime. And then, when I left the hypogeum [an underground temple or tomb], I started to cry.”

What now?

Well, according to Corriere della sera, there is also the exciting possibility that the tomb of Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome (616 BC-579 BC) may also be located in the area.

But for now the team is currently working to identify and catalogue the items found in the tomb.

Meanwhile, Tarquinia’s Mayor Mauro Mazzola, in an interview with Il Messaggero, hailed the discovery as a welcome boost to the area’s cultural heritage which would in turn boost tourism.

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ARCHAEOLOGY

Remains of nine Neanderthals found in Italian cave

The fossil remains of nine Neanderthal men have been found in a cave in Italy, the culture ministry announced Saturday, a major discovery in the study of our ancient cousins.

Neanderthal fossils discovered in Italy
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

All the individuals found in the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo, located on the coast between Rome and Naples, are believed to be adults, although one might have been a youth.

Eight of them date to between 50,000 and 68,000 years ago, while the oldest could be 90,000 or 100,000 years old, the ministry said in a statement.

“Together with two others found in the past on the site, they bring the total number of individuals present in the Guattari Cave to 11, confirming it as one of the most significant sites in the world for the history of Neanderthal man,” the ministry said.

READ ALSO: Ancient Roman home and mosaics unearthed during Italian apartment renovation

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini hailed the find as “an extraordinary discovery which the whole world will be talking about”.

Francesco Di Mario, who led the excavation project, said it represented a Neanderthal population that would have been quite large in the area.

Local director of anthropology Mario Rubini said the discovery will shed “important light on the history of the peopling of Italy”.

“Neanderthal man is a fundamental stage in human evolution, representing the apex of a species and the first human society we can talk about,” he said.

The findings follow new research begun in October 2019 into the Guattari
Cave, which was found by accident by a group of workers in February 1939.

On visiting the site shortly afterwards, paleontologist Albert Carlo Blanc made a stunning find – a well-preserved skull of a Neanderthal man.

The cave had been closed off by an ancient landslide, preserving everything inside as a snapshot in time that is slowly offering up its secrets.

Recent excavations have also found thousands of animal bones, notably those
of hyenas and the prey they are believed to have brought back to the cave to eat or store as food.

There are remains of large mammals including elephant, rhinoceros, giant deer, cave bear, wild horses and aurochs – extinct bovines.

“Many of the bones found show clear signs of gnawing,” the ministry statement said.

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