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The Necropolis of Poggio Civitate (Murlo): Burials from Poggio Aguzzo

The Necropolis of Poggio Civitate (Murlo): Burials from Poggio Aguzzo

By Anthony Tuck (Archaeologica 153). Pp. ix + 146, b&w figs. 16, b&w pls. 33. Giorgio Bretschneider, Rome 2009. $279. ISBN 978-88-7689-217-6 (paper).

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Poggio Civitate (Murlo) ranks among the most studied centers of inland Etruria. It is known for its famous structures, the so-called Upper Building, dating to ca. 600–550 B.C.E., and an earlier group of structures dating to the seventh century B.C.E. The buildings owe their place in Etruscan studies to their remarkable architectural plan and beautiful terracotta decoration. In the early part of the last century, sporadic finds from Poggio Aguzzo (on the same plateau as Poggio Civitate) initially caught the attention of Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli. This prompted a visit by Kyle Phillips Jr. in 1965, which led to the discovery shortly thereafter of the Upper Building structures on the Piano del Tesoro outlined in Phillips’ first report (“Bryn Mawr College Excavations in Tuscany, 1966,” AJA 71 [1967] 133–39). But until now, precious little has been known about the area beyond these buildings. Tuck offers an important contribution to this fascinating site through the examination of nine tombs excavated in the fall of 1972 at the necropolis of Poggio Civitate.

The tombs all date to the years around the middle of the seventh century B.C.E. and reflect only a portion of the graves at the Poggio Aguzzo cemetery, as logistics prevented further excavation. In fact, the full extent of the necropolis remains unknown. Poggio Aguzzo is actually a small hill projecting north of the main ridge of Poggio Civitate and is located some 350 m west of the plateau of Piano del Tesoro. The date of the tombs suggests that these inhabitants were contemporary with the early Orientalizing-period structures and production areas of the seventh century B.C.E. However, these are not the princely or wealthy orientalizing tombs we know so well from seventh-century Etruria, but rather modest fossa (ditch) tombs with locally made goods consisting of pottery, iron, and bronze with one imported Greek aryballos (perfume vase). Tuck’s description of each tomb reveals that the pottery was primarily for drinking and eating, positioned with care at the feet of the individuals, while items such as spears were placed beside the body. Tuck points out that this form of burial (namely, inhumations in fossa with banquet goods placed at the feet), is dissimilar to burial practices in the nearby region of Chiusi (88). But he also notes that the inclusion of eating and drinking equipment does reflect a common central Italic ritual tradition of the seventh century (84).

Tuck provides an in-depth analysis of all the artifacts found in the tombs by sorting the fabrics and shapes of vessels and metals (27–48) as well as by examining each tomb in the catalogue (99–129). The richest part of the book is found in Tuck’s assessment of “The Social Context of Poggio Aguzzo and Poggio Civitate” (83–98). Tuck’s study uses the 1972 excavation reports, but he does us an enormous favor by amplifying the study as a whole by incorporating the most up-to-date information from the ongoing excavations of the two phases of building (with which he has been involved for years). Tuck’s analysis and ability to contextualize the tomb objects makes for a rich synthesis indeed.

These are just some of the merits of the book. Tuck points out that there is little evidence of an Iron Age settlement at Poggio Civitate, and even less to speak of in the Bronze Age (90). Here lies an interesting conundrum—how can we account for the tremendous building activity and nearby cemetery in the seventh century B.C.E. without roots in an Iron Age past? After all, this is a standard ingredient of so many formidable (and not so formidable) Etruscan sites. To address this, Tuck carefully notes the unique surge in social and political development well under way in the seventh century at Poggio Civitate (90), the remains of which can be seen in the orientalizing buildings and the nearby necropolis.

Unlike most Etruscan sites where we know so much about the private sphere of Etruscan culture from rich necropoleis, the opposite has been the case with Poggio Civitate. We may be amazed that the tombs at Poggio Aguzzo and their contents do not reflect the figures adorning the terracotta plaques of the Upper Building. But how can they? These tombs are earlier in date, and although they do not provide us with evidence for a ruling class, they are significant all the same for their wealth of information regarding Poggio Civitate’s local fabrics and burial customs—not to mention the important evidence of Greek imports reaching inland centers: namely, the Protocorinthian aryballos found in Tomb 5 (cat. no. 31).

There is one drawing of an aerial view of Tombs 1–6, but a map of the area, especially one indicating the location of Poggio Aguzzo with respect to Piano del Tesoro on the Poggio Civitate hill, would have been useful. In spite of the small number of graves examined, Tuck sheds much light on local production within a funerary context—a welcome study for this noteworthy inland site. This book may not be for the generalist, but anyone interested in pre-Roman communities of central Italy, especially emerging Etruscan centers of the seventh century B.C.E., will gain much insight from Tuck’s rich examination. Suffice it to say that up until the present, we have known precious little about the actual people of Poggio Civitate—perhaps now we can hope that Tuck will continue research on the remaining tombs of Poggio Aguzzo, expanding our knowledge of this important and fascinating Etruscan center.

Lisa C. Pieraccini
The History of Art Department
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720

Book Review of The Necropolis of Poggio Civitate (Murlo): Burials from Poggio Aguzzo, by Anthony Tuck

Reviewed by Lisa C. Pieraccini

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1154.Pieraccini

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