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  • Discipline(s): History
  • Available: Fall Semester
  • Course Type: Standard Courses
  • Taught in: English
  • Credits: 3
  • Course Travel: Overnight trip to Tarquinia and Cerveteri

HIST 320: Archaeological Discoveries: A Passion for Classical Antiquity

Course Description

Archaeology is the discipline that studies past civilizations through the material remains they have left us, no matter how small or fragmentary those remains may be. What such artifacts may tell us of these long-gone civilizations is only part of the mosaic, however. The search for new physical material continues, and with the goal of adding new pieces to an ever-evolving but never complete picture of the past, comes a process of re-shaping our thinking about and understanding of the past.

In this course, we will focus on a specific field of archaeology: the archaeology that deals with the Etruscan civilization.

From around 900 to 400 BCE, the most innovative, powerful, wealthy, people in Italy were the Etruscans. They lived in central Italy, in an area that, today, is divided into the modern regions of Toscana, northern Lazio, and western Umbria. Their land was characterized by independent city-states; hilltop settlements commanding their hinterland, and still showing traces of the vast Etruscan walls which surrounded them.

Visitors to the region today are still seduced by the painted tombs at Tarquinia, the silent tumuli of Cerveteri (ancient Caere), the hilltop sites such as Perugia. Museums are full of artworks of extraordinary skill and beauty. Their culture was full of art, music, technology, sport, wine, religion; they lived well and they knew it.

Yet like almost all the peoples of the ancient world, they failed to hand on a literary tradition and history of their own. The Etruscan silence seems all the more deafening given the richness of their material culture, and their evident power for a good five centuries. 

The painstaking work of archaeologists and scholars, however, has gone a very long way to reviving knowledge of the Etruscans. The modern visitor to an Etruscan site or museum collection has absolutely no reason to feel bewildered or be left ignorant. Whilst there is much we will never know, there is much that we can say, and thrillingly, much more to discover. (C. Smith)

Over the last decade, there has not only been a rising interest in Etruscan art and archaeology in the United States but also a desire to present these important pre-Roman peoples as they were in antiquity: a vibrant, independent people whose distinct civilization flourished in central Italy for most of the first millennium BCE and whose influences were felt throughout the Mediterranean, from the Black Sea to the Strait of Gibraltar. (A. Carpino and S. Bell)

At the root of this interest is the conviction that “Treated in its own right and on its own terms, the archaeological, architectural, artistic, historical, political and religious record of the largely autonomous Etruscan cities is indispensable to the proper understanding of the Mediterranean and Classical worlds: and of ancient Europe, too” (D. Ridgway).

The course focuses not so much on the way that archaeologists go about recovering artifacts of antiquity (what we call Field Archaeology), but rather on the next stage of scientific work – the preservation and display of ancient artifacts in parks or museums. One of the central questions we will ask is: What is the principal purpose of visiting an archaeological museum or site? What does this material teach us, i.e., what can we learn from societies that have long disappeared, and what can this discovery offer in terms of our own personal enrichment?

With these questions in mind, we will aim to understand how we – citizens of the 21st century – can approach this distant culture in our visits to archaeological museums and sites in Perugia, Orvieto and Chiusi. This approach to archaeology serves not only to acquaint us with the classical world of 2000 years ago, but also to teach us something about ourselves and about our own contemporary culture.

Course Objectives
By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • acquire an understanding of the importance of archaeological discoveries in Italy through the ages;
  • develop critical reasoning, formal visual analysis and comprehension of archaeological experience;
  • gain knowledge of the principal elements of ancient classical culture and tradition; and
  • acquire familiarity with and be able to analyze different kinds of archaeological remains.

Course Materials

  • Mandatory course readers