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Ancient Tablet Reveals Mysterious Goddess-Worshiping Cult

The ancient and long-dead Etruscan culture has puzzled archaeologists and historians for centuries. According to archeological data, the culture was once a thriving and influential force in central Europe, but mysteriously disappeared as the Roman empire began to rise. It has been speculated that perhaps the Etruscans were assimilated into the larger Roman culture, as some vestiges of Etruscan traditions can be found in Roman culture.

Etruscan culture began around 700 BC but mysteriously vanished only around 600 years later.

Etruscan culture began around 700 BC but was absorbed into greater Roman civilization only around 600 years later.

Earlier this year, MU reported that a team of archeologists digging in Italy unearthed a massive 2,500-year old Etruscan tablet thought to be a stele, or stone monument marking the entrance to a forgotten temple. Now, translation of the tablet has confirmed that speculation and much more, and might revolutionize our current understanding of the Etruscan culture.

The tablet on which the inscription was found.

The tablet on which the inscription was found.

According to a press release issued by Southern Methodist University, the tablet could be the most complete Etruscan religious text discovered to date. Archeologists studying the inscriptions on the tablet’s surface have discovered the name of an influential Etruscan goddess, Uni. Uni is the Etruscan equivalent of Juno or Hera from Roman and Greek mythology, respectively, and was worshiped as a supreme goddess by the Etruscans.

Uni, suckling Hercle before he ascended to immortality. What a way to go.

Uni, suckling Hercle before he ascended to immortality. What a way to go.

According to Adriano Maggiani, one of the archeologists deciphering the tablet, the tablet was most likely a form of dedication to the goddess:

The location of its discovery — a place where prestigious offerings were made — and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character.

Gregory Warden, archeologist with Southern Methodist University and one of the lead researchers on the dig that found the tablet, told Discovery News that this discovery is thought to indicate a previously unknown Etruscan cult:

Etruscan sanctuaries are often dedicated to more than one deity. And we have possible indications that the cult may have changed in nature […] The centre of worship was an underground fissure that was ritually treated after the destruction of the temple. Underground cults of this type were often associated with female divinities.

Etruscan writing on the tablet's face.

Etruscan writing on the tablet’s face.

The translation of the tablet is time-consuming and difficult, because archeologists’ understanding of the Etruscan language is based on fragments collected from other discoveries. Some of the 120 characters on this particular tablet are new to Etruscan linguists and historians, whose knowledge of the ancient dead language is mostly based on previously unearthed burial artifacts. Since Etruscans used cloth or wax tablets for their writing, very few examples of Etruscan writing have survived the test of time.