A 2,500-year-old stone slab unearthed north-east of Florence may offer insight into the language and religion of the Etruscans, a pre-Roman population from the area roughly corresponding to Tuscany, an archeologist leading the research said Sunday.
The Mugello Valley Archaeological Project found a stone - technically called a stele - weighing about 225 kilogrammes, measuring 1.2 by 0.6 metres and featuring at least 70 legible characters. It was discovered in July and publicized last month.
"Even though it is not going to unravel the so-called mystery of the Etruscans, it is a very important and significant find," Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the project, told dpa in a telephone interview.
The Etruscans lived in central Italy from the 7th century BC until they were overrun by the Romans in the late 4th century BC. They had a unique language, but little else is known about them as most of their literature was lost after the fall of the Roman empire.
"I don't know if we can call it a unique find, as there may be one or two other examples, but it is certainly extraordinary," said Walden, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the project.
In a statement published on its website, the university said the slab is rare because while most Etruscan finds are funeral objects, this one comes from a temple, so it is presumed it will reveal new words of the Etruscans' language and details about their religion.
Following a cleaning, the slab is being examined in Florence in a process that will take several years, said Warden. There are even plans to digitally scan it, allowing anyone interested to reproduce the find with a 3D printer.
However, Professor Walden warned against expecting too much from the ongoing investigation. "Like with most important archeological discoveries, I suspect that it will raise more questions than it will answer," he said.