Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here
In search of Etruscans
The Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce hosts its Global Executive Briefing luncheons several times a year – with guest speakers who carry enlightening messages. They have included an undercover FBI investigator, Philadelphia’s chief of police, a U.S. trade official, and the founder of a spy museum.
But Tuesday’s speaker was different, an investigator, but one who moves rocks and digs in soil, an archaeologist.
And his mother, Franca Warden, is a member of the chamber’s board of directors. Greg Warden, an Etruscan scholar, was visiting from his home in Lugano, Switzerland, where he serves as president of Franklin College. It is an American liberal arts institution set in the mountains of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region.
Greg Warden moved to Lugano with his wife, Diane, a scholar in her own right, who has had a career in health care as a psychologist and was most recently a professor at a large research institution and medical school, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Born in Florence, Italy, Greg Warden grew up in the Delaware Valley, where his parents had close ties to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and his father, William Warden, was a Bucks County commissioner. Greg attended Buckingham Friends School and Solebury School.
He spoke about an Etruscan excavation, part of a long-term project at Poggio Colla, a site in Italy's Mugello Valley, near the modern town of Vicchio and about 20 miles from Florence.
Greg Warden is the founder, principal investigator, and co-director of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, a mission of Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, and the Center for Ancient Italy at the University of Texas.
Students from North American and European universities join in the excavation project each summer. About 60 professionals from archaeology-related fields sift through the buried remains of the ancient city or work in the laboratory for conservators at the site.
The Etruscans thrived in the Val di Sieve countryside around 6 to 2 B.C. They were eventually overrun by the Romans. Some Etruscan walls and arches have survived for up to eight centuries but the buildings have not.
Until the Poggio Colla project, Warden said, museums had pieced together artifacts from tombs to create Etruscan displays. This project uncovered foundations and buried parts of buildings that produced more accurate renderings of their appearance.
Early in the excavation, the archaeologists discovered the site of a temple on a hill overlooking the city. They determined that it was a monumental building with tall columns and a terra cotta roof. It appeared to be a center of government as well as religion, where theocracy held sway.
The temple had been destroyed by an unknown force and segments of the temple were buried carefully nearby. The researchers founded huge vases, probably decorations, about 7 feet tall, among the ruins. Livy, the Roman historian, Warden said, had called the Etruscans, the most religious of people. “Religion figured prominently in everything they did.”
Downhill from the temple, digging uncovered a center for manufacturing pottery and tile, showing the city had an economic base.
“Around 400 B.C.,” Warden said, “something happened.” Some disaster of unknown circumstances descended on the area. The temple was destroyed.
The culture changed abruptly and the reason has not been found. Was it because of fear? An effort to make up for offending the deities? Some unknown force struck an entire civilization.
The culture changed as the Etruscans revived. Recent efforts have succeeded in uncovering a trail of gold and bronze through the city to a fissure that leads to an underground tomb. “We’re trying to figure out why all kinds of stuff, more than 400 pieces of bronze layered into bedrock, create a line that leads to the fissure,” Warden said.
Among all that’s been unearthed at Poggio Colla, there’s a hint of a cult of some female divinity. One of the most fascinating discoveries has been a piece of pottery with an image of a women giving birth. “It is the earliest art showing birth,” Warden said. It’s also known that the Etruscans defined themselves with the names of father and mother, one of several indications that their’s was not a male-dominated society.
The project has been published on the Internet and in Warden’s journal articles and books. He has staged exhibitions in Madrid and Dallas and in 2012, he was knighted. The Republic of Italy awarded him the title of Cavaliere in the Order of Italian Solidarity for his contributions to Italian culture.
All that, and archaeologist Greg Warden is right at home in Bucks County.
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