Etruscan Burial Caldron Restored

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Due to the generosity of Patrons Ann Marie and Chris Scibelli, the California Patrons have funded the restoration of an Etruscan Caldron, called a “lebete,” and its accompaning tripod. The large hemispherical caldron was discovered in 1836 during archeological excavations at the Necropolis of Sorbe in Cerveteri, north of Rome. Archpriest Negolini and General Galassi uncovered a remarkable tomb partly carved into the native tufa rock and partly built with blocks of stone. The tomb is covered with a mound of dirt to create a monumental appearance called a tombolo. Built around 675 BC, the tomb remained in continual use until the 5th century BC by the same Etruscan noble family. The interior of the tomb consists of a large reception area flanked by two elliptical cells, and a large chamber where the body of a noble woman lay on an ornate bed. The tomb contained a treasure trove of jewelry, bronze shields, sumptuous furniture, vases, a monumental burial bed, and even a chariot.

The lebete and tripod played an important role in the Etruscan banquet ritual. The copper and tin vessel has a flat rim adorned with five lion heads and originally rested on an iron tripod. The 2500 year old caldron proved very fragile and the restorers employed particularly delicate cleaning techniques involving special vacuums and lasers. The restoration of the lebete produced a breakthrough in knowledge of the Etruscans. Historians previously believed that “lamia” was the only metal working technique utilized by the Etruscans. It consisted of hammering metal repeatedly to reduce its thickness. The experts in the Vatican Scientific Research Laboratory identified a different technique employed by the creator of the lebete. The five lion heads decorating the caldron’s rim came from a wholly different process called “indirect fusion.” Rather than hammering the copper, the craftsmen melted the copper and poured it into a form. Indirect fusion originated in countries to the east of Italy. The fact that the lebete manifested use of the oriental metal working technique indicates that eastern influences had much greater impact on Etruscan society than had previously been thought. The extensive study of the lebete is having a major effect on scholarly and historical understanding of the Etruscans.

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