It — for it was not a him yet, not then, not truly, no matter how much it wanted them to remember it that way — appeared on the outskirts of the village on a hot and shadeless afternoon. The children had thrown rocks at it. It did not move. They could not see a face under its ragged hood, but what looked to be an approximation of a mouth twisted into something not unlike a smile.
Last month, archaeologists announced a stunning find: a completely sealed tomb cut into the rock in Tuscany, Italy.
It — not he, never he — stayed at the outskirts for at least a month, never venturing to cross the border into the village proper. It was always polite, if nothing else. It solidified and took shape and waited.
No one ever saw where it went at night. It was there in the morning, that was all. It only moved under the light of the sun.
The untouched tomb held what looked like the body of an Etruscan prince holding a spear, along with the ashes of his wife. Several news outlets reported on the discovery of the 2,600-year-old warrior prince.
A bone analysis has revealed the warrior prince was actually a princess, as Judith Weingarten, an alumna of the British School at Athens noted on her blog, Zenobia: Empress of the East.
She had smiled at the council then, and everyone felt a bit foolish, after that, for having worried in the first place. If she was not afraid, what reason did they have to fear it? She laughed a little, and fear itself seemed ridiculous against the sound of it. “He will stay with me, then, if it concerns you,” she said. “I have need of a manservant. This one is clever and stays low to the ground; perhaps he will survive the next hunt. God knows I could use a spear-bearer who lives through at least one without failing me.” They all laughed then, and its smile was no longer an approximation. It was curled up at her feet like a cat, like smoke.
When the team removed the sealed slab blocking the tomb, they saw two large platforms. On one platform lay a skeleton bearing a lance. On another lay a partially incinerated skeleton. The team also found several pieces of jewelry and a bronze-plated box, which may have belonged to a woman, according to the researchers.
“On the inner wall, still hanging from a nail, was an aryballos [a type of flask] oil-painted in the Greek-Corinthian style,” Mandolesi said.
Initially, the lance suggested the skeleton on the biggest platform was a male warrior, possibly an Etruscan prince. The jewelry likely belonged to the second body, the warrior prince’s wife.
An old woman in a grey cloak has hovered near the edge of the dig for a month and a week. “Not a wife,” she whispers under the sound of chisel and hammer. “Not a wife, not a wife, not a wife. Not a marriage tomb. Not a wife. She never took a wife.”
But bone analysis revealed the prince holding the lance was actually a 35- to 40-year-old woman, whereas the second skeleton belonged to a man.
Given that, what do archaeologists make of the spear?
Everything under the noonday sun was ashes. The Eldest pointed a shaky finger at the unmoving heap of rags at her feet. “Bury it with her,” she said. “She took it under her protection while she lived. She must defend against it under the dirt.” One of the mothers of the village sobbed softly. Nobody moved.
“The tomb is sealed,” another one of the elders pointed out. “The tomb is sealed, and everything else has been burned. Surely that is enough. We cannot bury it with her — we cannot do that to her. We cannot put it in the ground with her, in that small room, to be alone with it forever.” The sobbing continued, still softly.
The Eldest shook her head. “It goes in the ground.” She gestured for one of the Fetchers to gather the bundle — still it did not move, but it was not inert, it was simply waiting, and there is a great deal of difference between those two types of motionlessness — and the Fetcher did so.
The sobbing erupted into a wail. “Not with her. Please, not with her, not alone, not alone.”
The Eldest thought for a moment. “With her spear, then. We will give her her spear, and perhaps the Ashed One will not trouble her.” Another Fetcher gathered up the spear — still wet, still red — and stood still as a stone next to the bundle.
“Bury it, and quickly,” The Eldest said. “I want that tomb closed again before my shadow grows longer. Put the spear in her hand, and do not touch the ashes if you can help it.”
Why was the flesh burned but not the rags that covered it, she wondered helplessly, madly to herself. Why would the rags not burn.
“The spear, most likely, was placed as a symbol of union between the two deceased,” Mandolesi told Viterbo News 24 on Sept. 26.
Weingarten doesn’t believe the symbol of unity explanation.
They covered the grave with stones and witching marks and left the village in silence.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.