Rare perfume flask found in Etruscan tomb

A small perfume flask was found dangling from a nail on the back tomb wall where it had been hung about 2,500 years ago

The untouched tomb of a member of the Etruscan elite has been discovered at Tarquinia in Italy. The tumulus is a rare example of an intact burial in an area blighted by looters, and belongs to the Necropolis of Monterozzi, a World Heritage Site that dates back to the 7th century BC.

unknown The interior of the tomb: on the far wall a small ceramic jar still hangs on a nail after 2,500 years. Photo: Prof. Alessandro Mandolesi

The tomb, just 6m (20ft) in diameter, belongs to the 6th century BC. It contained the remains of two individuals – one skeleton and one cremation – placed on two funerary benches cut from the rock on each side of the chamber, and surrounded by a large quantity of grave goods. A long spear had been placed close to the skeleton, leading to speculation that the individual was a prince. However, Prof. Alessandro Mandolesi, director of the excavation, told CWA that it is in fact that of a high-status female, who was about 35-40 years old when she died, and that the grave goods recovered have both male and female associations. Prof. Mandolesi went on to say that ‘the spear was placed along the woman’s body as a symbol of union with the cremated male, and highlighted her aristocratic status’. A box of needles and thread, traditionally female items, were also laid by her side, as well as a splendid bronze embossed cibrorium (drinking cup).

The grave goods include beautiful ceramics, jewellery, ornaments, and wall paintings. Most astonishing, however, was a small perfume flask dangling from a nail on the back wall where it had been hung about 2,500 years ago, and which still contained some of its precious ointment – a rare find that has given the burial its nickname ‘Tomba dell’Aryballos sospesa’ or ‘Tomb of the Hanging Perfume Jar’.