by George Prew
How do we put together the history, society and beliefs of a civilisation from which we have no (or very few) written records?
Such is the case with the Etruscans (the Italians before the Italians moved to Italy) and the Mycenaeans (the Greeks before the Greeks moved to Greece). After all, what are we supposed to do with a building full of terracotta models of various human organs, as indeed we have from several Etruscan temples, when we have nothing to tell us what they mean?
Might they be representations of self-sacrifice? Are they requests for healing or related to fertility?
How frustrating it is when we know that the Etruscans had extensive written records which we can even see depicted in paintings, but almost none survived.
And yet, as frustrating as the lack of writing can be, it prompts us to use evidence from anthropology, geology and palaeoethnobotany.
Oddly, the decline and fall of a civilisation is more intriguing to reconstruct if we do not have that civilisation’s own account of it. In such scenarios, we are forced to rely on the various tools that we have to hand but may not have thought to use otherwise.