THE NECROPOLIS OF CROCEFISSO DEL TUFO

The necropoli of the Etruscan city of Velzna were explored at various times in the course of the nineteenth-and twentieth-century and supplied us with fundamental evidence concerning the development, prosperity and decline of the Etruscan center. The necropolis of Crocefisso del Tufo, named after a rock-cut chapel close by, stretches out along the northern slopes of the cliff. In their architecture, size, tomb furnishings and topographic distribution the tombs uncovered are fairly homogeneous. They are of a type found in Cerveteri, and first appeared in Orvieto in the necropolis of Cannicella, on the southern slope. The rectangular burial chambers were almost always single, although occasionally two chambers were lined up along the same axis. The basic module consists of a tomb built in regular dry-masonry courses of tufa ashlars with a false vault consisting of progressively projecting ashlars arranged lengthwise and with keystones at the summit. A few cases where the roof was gabled have also been encountered. Externally the tombs are cube-shaped with a cornice consisting of a smooth fillet, torus and beak molding. Outside a level earth covering conceals the false vault or gabled roof. Cippi of various forms were sometimes found on top, perhaps to be seen in relation to the individuals buried in the sepulchral chambers below.

The entrance to the burial chamber was covered with earth almost halfway up with respect to the original ground level and was faced with tufa ashlars aligned with the outer walls. A large tufa slab, generally resting on the third step of the entrance and set against the third architrave above, closed the entrance to the chamber itself.  The space between the slab and the exterior wall was generally filled with earth. Two benches for the deposition of the deceased were located inside, one against the back wall and the other along a side wall. Both inhumation and incineration burials were occasionally found inside the same tomb, often of the same time period, tangible proof of the cultural complexity of the society at the time.

Funerary inscriptions in the Etruscan alphabet and language were incised outside above the entrance. They bore the name of the owner in a formula of possession that considered the tomb a sort of talking object that says: “I am the tomb of…” with the Etruscan mi, meaning “I”, followed by the genitive form of the owner’s name. There are few other groups of Etruscan inscriptions dating to the archaic period as large as the one in Orvieto and they provide us with a profile of the society of the time, open and willing to receive and assimilate people who were not necessarily Etruscan, as indicated by many of the names on the architraves.

The tomb furnishings of Crocefisso del Tufo are fairly homogeneous in both number and type of objects: bronzes and pottery wares (bucchero, vases of local production and imported ceramics), objects in iron, weapons which bear witness, in the case of male burials, to the banquet and war. Thanks to these elements the tombs can be dated to between the middle of the 6th the late 5th century BC, when the city was economically most flourishing.

The tombs are set next to each other along streets that form a regular grid, a topographic pattern that indicates a precise organization of spaces, pointing to real urban planning. The uniform characteristics of the tombs, spaces and furnishings would seem to indicate that the Orvieto society of the time was characterized not by the presence of aristocratic potentates, but by a large and powerful middle class with egalitarian features.

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