Saturday, February 15, 2014

Evidence and the Ancient World: The Founding of Rome and a Starry Etruscan Mirror (Part I, the Object)

The Founding of Rome and a Starry Etruscan Mirror (Part I, the Object)

World ancestry via DNA-based maps?

The New York Times just published an article by Nicholas Wade as Tracing Ancestry, Researchers Produce a Genetic Atlas of Human Mixing Events.

That article reports on the landmark DNA-based genetic atlas of human admixture history published Thursday in the Science journal by G. Hellenthal, G.B.J. Busby, G. Band, J.F. Wilson, C. Capelli, D. Falush & S. Myers.

Wade writes:
"Dr. Myers and his colleagues [have detected, inter alia, that] the European colonization of America is recorded in the genomes of the Maya and Pima Indians [and also] find among Northern Italians an insertion of Middle Eastern DNA that occurred between 776 B.C. and A.D. 550, and may represent the Etruscans, a mysterious people said by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus to have emigrated from Lydia in Turkey." [emphasis added]
It appears from the above that the right time for Etruscan research has arrived in terms of their role in the founding of Rome, the beginnings of Christianity, as well as the possible technology transfer of ancient astronomy from the Ancient Near East.

The importance of astronomy to Etruscan culture has recently been emphasized by Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni, Susanna Bortolotto and Giulio Magli in Astronomy and Etruscan Ritual: The Case of the Ara della Regina in Tarquina, Nexus Network Journal, Issue 3, pp. 445-455. An abstract of that article is found online at where it is written:
"The ancient town of Tarquinia is the key place of the Etruscan system of beliefs, since its foundations were credited to Tarchon, descendant of the Greek hero Herakles, founder of the Etruscan League, and discloser of the sacred texts of the Etrusca Disciplina. These were said to come from the infant oracle Tages, who sprang out from the terrain in front of Tarchon while he was ploughing a field. In order to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the archaeological records and the Etruscan symbolic world we investigate here on different orientations and on their possible symbolic meaning at the Ara della Regina, the sanctuary of Tarquinia. The main base appears to be related to the sun rising a decades [?] before the spring equinox, while the Archaic altar, probably representing Tarchon’s cenotaph, was orientated to the setting of the constellation Herakles."
We recently have been working on a new edition of our 1980 astronomical decipherment of the Etruscan Bronze Liver of Piacenza, and in the course of our newest research ran across the archaic astronomical mirror pictured below.

Etruscan Mirror, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie III, entry "Orion (b. Homer)", page 1026 (image), page 1027 (text) citing to Monum. d. Inst. 6, plate 24 [?? Monumenti, dall'Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica. Roma. ??].

This little-known "starry" Etruscan  mirror portrays a heavenly scene which previous scholars have -- surely correctly -- identified as stars of the heavens, including Orion as a hunter, Canis Major as a dog, and presumably Canis Minor (rather than Lepus) as the hunted hare.

All are pictured together with a crescent Moon and seven or eight stars above those celestial figures in the starry night (one of the presumed stars is a smaller point and could be a damage scratch, though this is not crucial for the astronomical interpretation).

These stars -- surely incorrectly -- some have sought to identify as the Pleiades, but neither the Pleiades nor the alternatively suggested neighboring Hyades are stars that are found directly above Orion and neither of those two stellar groups has the form found on this starry Etruscan mirror.

In fact, as will become clear from our subsequent analysis (beginning at Part II), the 7 or 8 stars depicted on this starry Etruscan mirror surely represent the stars of Gemini and Auriga, with the Moon found at exactly that position at the Spring Equinox in the era of Rome's founding (our discovery).

Our scanned image of the Etruscan mirror above was made from the online and the encylopaedic work, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, Leipzig, B.G. Teubner, 1884-1937, at the entry Orion (b. Homer), p. 1026 (image), and p. 1027 (text description). Information about Roscher can be viewed at the Wikipedia, including information that Roscher was born on 12 February 1845 in Göttingen, Germany and passed away on 9 March 1923 in Dresden, Germany.

The German text (page 1027, Roscher) that we have placed next to the image of the mirror (page 1026, Roscher) reads (in our English translation): 
"Except for a drawing group probably correctly viewed as Orion, Canis Major and Hare [normally Lepus below Orion, but here perhaps Canis Minor] – the Etruscan Mirror also depicts [seven or] eight stars between which a crescent Moon is drawn. These stars, seven of which could be viewed as composing a group, have been seen by some to depict the Pleiades, with the eighth construed as mother Pleione. However, besides the fact that the drawing bears no resemblance to the shape of the constellation of the Pleiades (the Hyades might be better), it is also a completely arbitrary assumption that Pleione was visible in the sky as a star, for at no point does the literature permit the conclusion of a catasterism for Pleione. And even if this view were correct, the drawing on the mirror does not portray the Pleiades as doves fleeing before the "Wild Hunter" [Orion and his dog]. If these stars and the moon were perhaps drawn only to give an impression of the night sky, then the rest of the group is remarkable as a genuine document reflecting a close relationship between the three constellations of Orion, dog [Canis Major] and hare [Lepus or Canis Minor], an interpretation which is then limited to the hunting scene only and as such, reflects what we know from the available literary sources."
The original German text, by the way, for those who are interested, reads:
"Auf einem etruskischen Spiegel (s Abb. 2 nach Mon. d. Inst. 6, tav. 24, 5; vgl. Gtrhard, Etr. Spiegel 4, S. 22, Taf. 243, A3) sind ausser einer Gruppe, die wohl mit Recht auf Orion mit Hund und Hase gedeutet worden ist, noch acht Sterne, zwischen denen der Halbmond sichtbar ist, gezeichnet. Diese Sterne, von denen sieben enger zusammenzugehören scheinen, hat man als die Plejaden aufgefasst, den achten Stern als ihre Mutter Pleione. Aber abgesehen davon, dass die Zeichnung keineswegs der Gestalt des Sternbildes der Plejaden ähnlich ist (eher den Hyaden), ist es auch eine ganz willkürliche Annahme, dass Pleione am Himmel als Stern sichtbar gewesen sei; aus keiner Stelle der Litteratur kann auf einen Katasterismus der Pleione geschlossen werden. Und selbst wenn diese Auffassung richtig wäre, könnte man aus der Spiegelzeichnung nicht ersehen, dass die Plejaden als Tauben aufgefasst worden seien, die vor dem „wilden Jäger“ fliehen. Wenn also Sterne und Mond vielleicht nur deswegen eingezeichnet sind, um ein Bild des nächtlichen Himmels zu geben, so ist doch die übrige Gruppe merkwürdig als ein urkundliches Zeugnis für eine engere Verbindung der drei Sternbilder Orion, Hund und Hase, auf welche sich auch nach litterarischen Zeugnissen, wie oben bemerkt, das Bild der Jagd beschränkt zu haben scheint."
The same mirror is pictured online in larger format by at "Orion - Greek Mythology Link" and labelled: "Orion, the Dog, and the Hare. The stars have been doubtfully identified as the PLEIADES (the seven stars to the left), and as Pleione, their mother, the eighth star to the right." cites to RIII.1-1026: Orion, Hund und Hase. Etruskischen Spiegel (nach Monum. d. Inst. 6 tav. 24, 5). Roscher, 1884.

Our analysis follows in Part II.

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