Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Etruscans in early Iron Age Sardinia

The Etruscans were the last people (or nearly so), other than the Basque, whose language is a language isolate; the Finns, the Saami, the Hungarians and a few Russian minorities who speak Uralic languages; and relatively recently arrived Jews and Muslims (speaking Semitic languages); to speak a non-Indo-European language in Europe.

The Etruscan language was historically attested in Roman historical documentation from 700 BCE into the common era (50 CE), but the language was extinct and the culture largely lost before the Roman Empire fell. Also, while this language is attested in writing, we haven't deciphered what it means (and don't know where it fits in a linguistic family tree). Indeed, but for the historical records and written examples of the Etruscan language, archaeologists would have assumed that they were Indo-European Italic language speakers with a slightly different religious cult and artistic sensibility than their neighbors in Iron Age Northern Italy.

Essentially all Etruscan archaeology derives from Tuscany and the immediate vicinity in Northern Italy, with a smattering of historical attestations from ex-patriot Etruscan communities in major Roman empire cities like the capitol in Rome.

But, now, Etruscan archaeological evidence has surfaced in Sardinia:
An Etruscan settlement that dates back to the 9th century BC has been found on the Sardinian coasts near Olbia. The presence emerged during a review of the findings of recent years by the archaeological superintendency for the Sassari and Nuoro provinces.
The Monte Prama statues in Sardinia also date back to those times. ''The exchanges between 'nuraghic' Sardinia and the cultural aspect of the first Age of Iron of Ertruria, known as 'villanoviano' are well known and have been studied in depth. 
However, the presence of a community coming from the Etruscan shore that settled in Sardinia and prospered had not previously been found,'' archaeologist Francesco di Gennaro said. ''It is an absolute first and constitutes a leap forward in the reconstruction of relations between the two shores of the Tyrrhenian in protohistory.''
This materially expands our understanding of the range of Etruscan culture, which even linguistic hypotheses suggesting that Etruscan culture once had a larger range usually associate with other non-Indo-European linguistic communities to the Alps inn the north and the Aegean to the east of Tuscany (the Tyrsenian languages), not in the direction of Sardinia to the west, in the direction of Vasconic linguistic communities (although some Tyresian language was thought to have been spoken at one point on part of the island of Corsica immediately to the North). The possible sister language Lemnian in the Aegean was extinct in the 3rd century BCE. The almost certain sister language Rhaetic in the Alps (not to be confused with the modern Romance language of Switzerland of the same name) died out around the 3rd century CE, a couple of centuries after Etruscan was replaced by Latin.

The publicly available information, summed up above, isn't very rich, but this is still a very important data point in piecing together the state of Mediterranean Europe at the dawn of the Iron Age, and also provides a critical link in trying to find connections between the Etruscan archaeological civilization and language and the linguistic and cultural landscape of  Southern Europe in the Bronze Age.

Also, given the fact that there is a fair amount of ancient DNA from Europe before, during and after this era, including some ancient DNA from Sardinia (another new paper showing Phoenician ties in Sardinian ancient DNA also just came out this year) and from the Etruscans (alas limited to mtDNA), and that the modern population genetic of the relevant regions are relatively well studied, it isn't unthinkable that this clue may allow us to make more sense of that genetic data.

The Phoenician and Sardinian ancient DNA paper is as follows (hat tip to Eurogenes) and overlaps the time frame of the Etuscan settlement in Sardinia.
The Phoenicians emerged in the Northern Levant around 1800 BCE and by the 9th century BCE had spread their culture across the Mediterranean Basin, establishing trading posts, and settlements in various European Mediterranean and North African locations. Despite their widespread influence, what is known of the Phoenicians comes from what was written about them by the Greeks and Egyptians. In this study, we investigate the extent of Phoenician integration with the Sardinian communities they settled. We present 14 new ancient mitogenome sequences from pre-Phoenician (~1800 BCE) and Phoenician (~700–400 BCE) samples from Lebanon (n = 4) and Sardinia (n = 10) and compare these with 87 new complete mitogenomes from modern Lebanese and 21 recently published pre-Phoenician ancient mitogenomes from Sardinia to investigate the population dynamics of the Phoenician (Punic) site of Monte Sirai, in southern Sardinia. Our results indicate evidence of continuity of some lineages from pre-Phoenician populations suggesting integration of indigenous Sardinians in the Monte Sirai Phoenician community. We also find evidence of the arrival of new, unique mitochondrial lineages, indicating the movement of women from sites in the Near East or North Africa to Sardinia, but also possibly from non-Mediterranean populations and the likely movement of women from Europe to Phoenician sites in Lebanon. Combined, this evidence suggests female mobility and genetic diversity in Phoenician communities, reflecting the inclusive and multicultural nature of Phoenician society.
Matisoo-Smith E, Gosling AL, Platt D, Kardailsky O, Prost S, Cameron-Christie S, et al. (2018) Ancient mitogenomes of Phoenicians from Sardinia and Lebanon: A story of settlement, integration, and female mobility. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0190169.

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