for National Geographic News
A 2,200-year-old tomb has been discovered completely intact in central Italy, revealing the remains and ornate possessions of some 30 Etruscans, members of the ancient civilization that ruled the region before the rise of Rome.
The find was unearthed earlier this month by a team of amateur archaeologists working in the woods of Tuscany, 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of Florence (see Italy map).
The 6.5-foot long (2-meter-long) carved stone chamber contains dozens of urns full of human ashes, a typical burial method of the Etruscans, said Andrea Marcocci, an archaeology student at the University of Siena who discovered the site and directed the excavation.
"All in all, there were 30 urns—3 of them made of stone, 2 bronze, and 25 terra-cotta," Marcocci said.
"The remains probably belong to the members of a single family, the smaller urns holding the ashes of the servants."
Among the vessels, the archaeologists found bronze coins, rings, small terra-cotta plates, bronze mirrors, and a black stone amulet.
"It's noteworthy because it's still intact," Gabriella Barbieri, an official with the Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany, said of the find.
"In the last 2,200 years nobody broke in the chamber to steal the artifacts, a quite rare occurrence," she said.
The Etruscans ruled central Italy from at least 700 B.C. until they were assimilated by the Roman Republic in the second and first centuries B.C.
(See a photo gallery of ancient Rome in 3-D.)
"We know Etruscans inhabited this area," Barbieri said.
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