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Classics Professor Discovers First Ever Etruscan Pyramids in Italy

August 07, 2012

Laura Lemire
Communications and Marketing

Classics professor David George and a group of Saint Anselm students and alumni discovered for the first time a series of pyramidal structures under the city of Orvieto, Italy.

For 20 years, George has led students to archaeological dig sites to uncover the mysteries of the past including trips to Greece and most recently Castel Viscardo and Orvieto, towns in the southwest edge of Umbria, Italy.

This year, George and co-driector, Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeogico Ambientale dell'Orvietanoas, an expert in Orvieto archaeology, worked at a second site in addition to the first at Castel Viscardo. There they discovered pyramids dating to at least the 5th Century BCE carved into the plateau rock on which Orvieto stands.

The archaeologists and students uncovered a series of Etruscan tunnels, 5th century BCE Etruscan pottery, as well as material dating back to 1200 BCE. George believes the subterranean pyramids were likely tombs or part of a sanctuary. He says there are no parallels to this anywhere in Italy.

"We know its not a quarry or a cistern; the walls are too well dressed to be a quarry and there is no evidence of mud which would point to a cistern. That leaves just a couple of things, some sort of a religious structure or a tomb, both of which are without precedent here," says George.

At the time of their discovery, the structures were filled, covered by a top floor that had been modified for modern use, most currently, a wine cellar. Upon noting some Etruscan construction techniques in the stone stairwell, Drs. George and Bizzarri obtained a permit to dig deeper.

Excavating Pyramids
Excavation of the site began on May 21 where the group dug through a mid 20th century floor reaching a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this subfloor, George and Bizzarri with their team excavated a layer of fill containing materials and artifacts ranging from the middle of the 5th century BCE to 1000 BCE.

The archaeologists believe they are currently at least 12 meters from the bottom, having already dug down 5 meters. The Etruscan stone steps continue to descend and the group discovered a caniculo leading into the second pyramid. The site will sit idle until May 2013, when Drs. George and Bizzarri return with their crews.

What's Next
In May 2013, George will also resume his work at the original site in Coriglia, near Castel Viscardo for his eighth season. You can read about George and his crew at Over the past seven seasons, they have uncovered evidence for occupation of the site dating from the 10th c. BCE all the way to the 16th c. CE (as well as random regalia from World War II). To date, the site's strongest phases are Etruscan and Roman (Republican, Early Imperial, and Late Antique). This year they discovered an Etruscan foundation deposit dating to the 6th century BCE underneath one of the walls.

Eleven Saint Anselm students and six alumni worked on the two sites with 25 other participants from all over North America.

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