Before the Romans conquered the known world, three great powers held rule over the ancient Mediterranean. The Greeks are well known and the Phoenicians fairly so, but the third civilization, the Etruscans, remains mysterious. A forthcoming documentary film about an archeological dig at the site of a former Etruscan settlement aims to shed light on some of that mystery.

Humanities Texas has awarded Southern Methodist University a grant of $7000 to support the production of a short documentary on the dig in Poggio Colla, Italy. The film's title is Discovering the Etruscans: From the Temple and the Tomb.

"Discovering the Etruscans is a journey into the heart of one of the most mysterious cultures that ever walked the Earth and it's told through the eyes of two Texas scholars, Dr. Greg Warden and Dr. Michael Thomas," said Rachel Lyon, project director and professor at SMU.

Warden has been uncovering and studying Etruscan artifacts at the site for fifteen years. Lyon was inspired to get involved with the project by an exhibition featuring some of those artifacts.

"I looked at some of this work and was absolutely swept away," Lyon said about viewing the Etrurian art for the first time. "I literally was swept off my feet, like I fell in love. How did they conceive of hands, of feet, of faces, of animals—some of their animals are just amazing. These shapes! They're remarkable even as ancient or modern artwork."

Lyon was also inspired by Warden's approach to his work. The Poggio Colla team is interested in not only the Etrurian artists but also the average Etrurian who appreciated that art.

"It's very different than the old archeology. It's looking for overall life, using coring techniques, DNA techniques," Lyon explained. Past archeological tradition paid less attention to artifacts that were unusual or weren't considered classical. "We have one piece that we call Hitchcock—this is not classic Greece."

When Warden travels to Italy each summer to continue work on the dig, he brings along a group of undergraduates. "They're training a whole batch of undergrads who would never have the access to this kind of remarkable dig," says Lyon. "This is Raiders of the Lost Ark for real."

And indeed, the dig is remarkable. While many sites are found under cities or otherwise difficult areas, the Poggio Colla dig is on farmland. The artifacts haven't been disturbed for 2500 years, since the last people left their last meal in ancient Etruria, making the dig site pristine. "This is not the ultimate find in terms of the most gold; it's a fantastically important find in gaining a real understanding of the lives of the Etrurians at the height of their culture," said Lyon.

She hopes to complete the short, twelve-minute film in 2009 for distribution on the internet and to educational institutions in 2010. Hopefully, the short film will garner interest in producing a full-length documentary. Either way, Lyon is excited about the project now and grateful for Humanities Texas's support.

"We cannot work without you, without people who care and understand," said Lyon. "We can’t make it without the support of the humanities."