Archaeologists in Italy have discovered what may be a rare sacred text in the lost Etruscan language that is likely to yield rich details about Etruscan worship of a god or goddess.
The lengthy text is inscribed on a large sandstone slab that was embedded in the foundations of a monumental Italian temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years, the researchers said.
"This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions," said archaeologist Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.
The slab, weighing about 500 pounds (227 kg) and nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks, Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, US, said in a statement.
Scholars in the field predict the stele as such slabs are called, will yield a wealth of new knowledge about the lost culture of the Etruscans who lived in the first millennium BC.
The Etruscan civilization once ruled Rome and influenced Romans in everything from religion to government to art to architecture.
Considered one of the most religious people of the ancient world, Etruscan life was permeated by religion, and ruling magistrates also exercised religious authority.
At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority, Warden said.
"We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language," Warden said.
"Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text," Warden noted.
In two decades of digging, Mugello Valley Archaeological Project has unearthed objects about Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes.
The stele discovery will advance knowledge of Etruscan history, literacy and religious practices, Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, US, said.