9 May 2009

An Etruscan discovery of yore and modern times

Just yesterday, to one of my previous entries entitled The Etruscan verb root slic- in TLE 131, a person of mystery known only under a cute, ursine name without any associated profile had posted a comment with a lone link to a New York Times article entitled Hittite Seal in Italy - Discovery at Vicenza Reveals Hittite Origin of Etruscans without any futher explanation. I do hope that his aim was something other than to push a dead theory (ie. that Etruscan is an Indo-European language). I decided to excise it from the entry's commentbox anyway because it didn't have that much relevance to the topic there. Afterall, in that entry I was only suggesting Hittite loanwords in a Pre-Etruscan stage, *not* a genetic relationship between the two at all. No academic concerned about his reputation or sanity dares endorse such an absurd and fully disproven theory in this day and age. It also seems that the reader didn't notice that his linked article is now almost 102 years old. Oh dear.

However, more constructively, this century-old article is still interesting to examine, in the right frame of thought, for many reasons. It certainly can't be used as a source of relevant information on Etruscan origins but it has historical merit pertaining more to modern culture and the uses/abuses of media. It's also instructive to learn how a field of study has progressed over the decades. Personally, I look at this NY Times article as a case study of how mass media (in this case, print) can lure the naive, general public into sensationalist beliefs about obscure subjects documented by authors who are fundamentally uninterested in it. Most of these writers of newspaper articles aren't simply unqualified to treat these special topics with educated balance, but are additionally handicapped by a deleterious devotion to rhetoric and fantasy in order to sell a product (in this case, a newspaper) rather than selflessly commit to the careful but comparatively unentertaining discipline of logical sequitur.

So as we read in this centenarian article, a cylindrical seal lead to the leap of logic that it somehow revealed the "Hittite origins of Etruscans" (planted right in the article's title), as if to suggest that Etruscans were Hittite. Egad. Now back to modern times, are we so certain that we aren't reading similarly sensationalist and deceptive things in the paper, taking advantage of the layman's laziness to verify facts for themselves, that are leading us to false conclusions about the world around us? Caveat lector.


  1. Newspapers are still at it too. Look at this link from the Financial Times, January 3rd, 2009, entitled "Astound a Venetian with your fluency in Etruscan": http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f71206a-d939-11dd-ab5f-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1
    Andrew Spence of Palma, Majorca, writes "I found while living there that the Venetians used one word for money - 'skei'. It is an old Etruscan word, I believe..."

    I have a feeling he's talking out of his hat, but just to be sure: do we even KNOW the Etruscan word for "money" or "coin"?

  2. I've followed your link.

    To be honest, the first thing running through my head was, "I have no clue where this wingnut got this crap from." But I figured that wouldn't be informative for readers here so I decided to dig deeper online on your behalf.

    1. No word is proven to mean 'money' or 'coin' in Etruscan, nor have I personally found it.

    2. The word Andrew Spence cites is misspelled for proper schei.

    3. In Veneto, Italians do say schei for 'money' (see Kinder/Savini, Using Italian (2004), p.120).

    4. The term arose by the 1900s in Austro-Hungarian-owned Veneto as a shortened form of German Scheidemuntz (see I am not making this up: It's all about the money, 16 July 2009; picture of period coin).

    5. Ergo, Andrew Spence is full of hot air.

  3. Whoops, that should read **1800s**. Off by a century! Time for sleep.