Wednesday, June 21, 2006

European Civilization Older Than Thought

Dear Harold,

The date for European civilization keeps on being pushed back. It used to be taught in schools that the oldest civilization on Earth was the Chinese at some 3000 years BC, supposedly predating European civilization by around 1,000 years! Read this!

Dee

'Tomb raider' leads authorities to ancient paintings

(Reuters) Italy has unveiled a new archaeological site that some experts say houses the oldest paintings in the history of Western civilisation.

Italy's culture minister took reporters to an unremarkable field outside Rome under which they were shown a room carved into the hillside, decorated with colourful frescoes which archaeologists said were 2,700 years old.

"It's a prince's tomb that is unique, and I would say is at the origins of Western art," said Minister Francesco Rutelli, standing on what, until two weeks ago when the site was found, was just a field of barley.

Authorities were led to the spot - in an area known for its remains from the Etruscan civilisation that thrived in Italy before the Roman Empire - by an 82-year-old Austrian tour guide who police were questioning for looting ancient artefacts.

Archaeologists were amazed at what they found once the earth was removed - a large, square room, with niches that would once have stored cremated remains, remnants of a bright red painted ceiling and coloured frescoes of birds and roaring lions.

"There are thousands of tombs here," said Francesca Boitani, a culture ministry archaeologist, pointing to the rolling hills north of Rome which were once home to the Etruscan city of Veia.

"But this one, it's the pictures that that are stunning. They give a sense of the primitive."

It is the primitive nature of the paintings that has convinced the experts that they are at least a generation older than any others yet found - dating from 700-680 BC.

Oldest

Giovanni Colonna, a professor at Rome's Sapienza University, said although the frescoes were not as old as Egyptian art or some cave paintings, they had to be the oldest examples of the Western tradition of art that was then developed by the Greek and Roman civilisations.

Fragments of decorated pottery found in the tomb, and the clearly visible remnants of a wheel which once was part of a cart buried along with the bodies, indicate the burial site was that of a nobleman or prince.

In Etruscan art, the birds would have symbolised the passage between life and death and the lions represented the underworld.

While art historians salivate at the finding, it illustrated two serious problems for Italy - the constantly rising cost of excavating and managing ancient treasures and the fight against organised criminals who plunder the country's heritage.

Ironically, police were led to the "Roaring Lions" site by a tomb raiding suspect who hoped to receive lenient treatment.

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