The Italian Almanac

Etruscan tomb

Italian News - June 18

Italy unveiled a new archaeological site that some experts say houses the oldest paintings in the history of Western civilization. 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 colorful 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 civilization that thrived in Italy before the Roman Empire by an 82-year-old Austrian tour guide who police were questioning for looting ancient artifacts.

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 colored frescoes of birds and roaring lions.

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.