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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Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals

Neanderthals, long perceived to have been unsophisticated and brutish, really did paint stalagmites in a Spanish cave more than 60,000 years ago, according to a study published on Monday.

Study confirms ancient cave art in southern Spain was created by Neanderthals
Photo: Joao Zilhao/ICREA/AFP

The issue had roiled the paleoarchaeology community ever since the publication of a 2018 paper attributing red ocher pigment found on the stalagmitic dome of Cueva de Ardales (Malaga province) to our extinct “cousin” species.

The dating suggested the art was at least 64,800 years old, made at a time when modern humans did not inhabit the continent.

But the finding was contentious, and “a scientific article said that perhaps these pigments were a natural thing,” a result of iron oxide flow, Francesco d’Errico, co-author of a new paper in the journal PNAS told AFP.

A new analysis revealed the composition and placement of the pigments were not consistent with natural processes — instead, the pigments were applied through splattering and blowing.


What’s more, their texture did not match natural samples taken from the caves, suggesting the pigments came from an external source.

More detailed dating showed that the pigments were applied at different points in time, separated by more than ten thousand years.This “supports the hypothesis that the Neanderthals came on several occasions, over several thousand years, to mark the cave with pigments,” said d’Errico, of the University of Bordeaux.

It is difficult to compare the Neanderthal “art” to wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, more 30,000 years old.

But the new finding adds to increasing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage went extinct around 40,000 years ago, were not the boorish relatives of Homo sapiens they were long portrayed to be.

The cave-paintings found in three caves in Spain, one of them in Ardales, are throught to have been created between 43,000 and 65,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The team wrote that the pigments are not “art” in the narrow sense of the word “but rather the result of graphic behaviors intent on perpetuating the symbolic significance of a space.”

The cave formations “played a fundamental role in the symbolic systems of some Neanderthal communities,” though what those symbols meant remains a mystery for now.