Hypogeum of the Volumnis
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Site InformationCountry: Italy
State: Perugia, Umbria
Location: 43° 5' 21" N - 12° 25' 27" E
Field Documentation Date(s): October 1st, 2004
Project Release Date(s): September 22nd, 2007
Time Range: 300 BCE - 100 BCE
Culture: Etruscan, Italic, Hellenistic
Site Authority: Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Umbria
The Hypogeum of the Volumnis is located five kilometers outside the city of Perugia among a site of Etruscan tombs known as the Necropolis of Palazzone. A 19th century vestibule exists above ground, enclosing and protecting the archeological site of this ancient Etruscan tomb. The vestibule itself contains a multitude of small funerary urns excavated from the surrounding necropolis that are terraced around the entrance to the hypoguem. From the vestibule, a steep staircase leads 5.3m (17ft) underground over 30 steps. A travertine doorway is at the bottom of this staircase which contains an inscription dedicating the chamber to the Velimna family (translated to Volumnius in Roman). Across the threshold is a large rectangular central chamber surrounded by nine smaller, funerary chambers in a somewhat anthropomorphic plan. The layout of this plan reflects the typology of a typical ancient Etruscan house; the central chamber is analogous to an atrium of the house, and is bordered by lateral chambers on its eastern and western sides; a chamber analogous to a tablinum is located at the far end of the central chamber along a main axis.
The carved limestone ceiling of the central chamber explicitly mimics the interior form of the traditional wood-framed Etruscan house, sloped in two directions from a central ridge beam, complete with correctly placed rafters, joists, and planks. A pediment above the door to the tablinum chamber in the central chamber depicts a large shield or disk with a head carved in its center. The head is thought to be either Apollo surrounded by laurel leaves or sun rays, or the head of Medusa surrounded by radiating scales on the shield of Minerva.
The lateral chambers consist of six cellae (chambers) and two alae (sub chambers). The six inner chambers along the western and eastern sides of the central chamber are the cellae. These cellae are analogous to extra rooms in a palace or the inner chambers in a temple; each of them has a bench and two of them have carved wall and ceiling reliefs of snakes, owls, and Gorgons. Located on the northern end of the hypogeum, the two alae flank the tablinum to the east and west but are not connected to it. The eastern ala has the form of a coffered ceiling like the tablinum. The cellae and alae seem to have never been occupied by any internments; this discovery is thought to be either due to the lineage dying out or a switchover to Roman funereal customs that did not utilize crypts of this distinctly Etruscan type.
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Due to the eventual domination by the Romans of their neighbors, little is left in the realm of material culture of the early Italic peoples. We know the most about the Etruscans, whose culture is believed to have begun around 700 BCE. The Etruscans are known primarily through their underground tombs and the funerary artifacts found within. The Hypogeum of the Volumnis is an ancient Etruscan tomb of the Velimna (in Etruscan, Volumnis in Latin) family. It is a prime example of a late Etruscan tomb, showcasing a Greek style in its decorated tympanum in the central chamber. Internments were made from about 300 to 100 BCE, a time when Etruscan elites were being challenged by the growing dominance of the Romans. The Hypogeum of the Volumnis was probably closed during the first century BCE as Roman customs came to replace those of the Etruscans. Uncovered by accident in 1840 and more fully excavated in the 1960s, the Hypogeum of the Volumnis is the largest and most completely intact of the almost two hundred known tomb sites at the Necropolis of Palazzone.
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In October 2004, Guido Galvani and Nicola Zaltron, from the Research Center for the Development of Integrated Automatic Procedures for Restoration of Monuments (DIAPReM) of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Ferrara, conducted a high definition 3D laser scan survey of the Etruscan tomb known as the Hypogeum of the Volumnis (Ipogeo dei Volumni) together with Daniel Blersch, at that time from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence and currently working at DIAPReM. The 3D laser scan survey, with a Leica/Cyrax HDS 3000 and integrated topographic survey, were executed in only 14 hours to avoid interfering with visitor access. The survey was executed in 23 high definition scans, registered within the topographic survey to create a master data set. The result of this complete data set was a 3D Point Cloud Model containing 10,732,163 points with an average error of 3mm.
The primary subject of the survey was the Hypogeum of the Volumnis, however parts of the entrance, the stairway leading down into the hypogeum, and the funereal urns inside the vestibule were included. This data set assisted in a case study on Etruscan wooden architecture conducted at the University of Florence by Daniel Blersch and Gennaro Tampone, a specialist on ancient wooden structures. The point cloud data was rendered through a process of meshing and advanced modeling and investigated through morphologic analysis. The study concluded with a hypothetical reconstruction of the wooden ceiling systems of a traditional Etruscan house based on the analysis of the carved stone ceilings of the hypogeum. From this digital survey, new information on Etruscan wooden architecture and construction principles has been gathered which, until now, has been mostly based on the representations on their funeral urns.
Daniel Blersch took high resolution digital photographs of the entire ceiling system which was then integrated by Oliver Monson of CyArk, who visited the site in June 2007. Data development and processing was supported by the Kacyra Family Foundation. Funding was provided by DIAPReM at University of Ferrara. Based on the acquired data, a case study was developed for the program Methods and Integrated Survey Techniques for the Construction and Fruition of 3D Virtual Models of Architecture and City, part of the Italian National Research PRIN 2004 of the Ministry of Education, University and Research. Scientific Coordinator: Mario Docci. Research Unit at University of Ferrara: Survey Techniques with 3D Laser Scanner for the Elaboration of Integrated Data Bases of Architecture and Landscape. Scientific Coordinator: Marcello Balzani.
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Since its discovery in 1840 by the local landowner, Conte Baglioni, the tomb's entrance has been protected by a small vestibule. The landowner used it to house the artifacts uncovered in the course of his informal excavations. Several restorations have been executed, but the sandstone surfaces' preservation is compromised by mechanical vibrations due to a railway track and a pole of a highway bridge, both adjacent to the site.
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The chamber in the privileged position, opposite the stair along the axis of the central chamber, is analogous to the tablinum, or master's study, of a traditional Etruscan house where family records and deities resided. The tablinum has a coffered ceiling similar to the eastern ala. This chamber contains seven travertine cinerary urns, some covered with stucco, as well as sculptures in sandstone, terracotta, and marble. These sculptures depict not only the individuals interred in the tomb, but also mythological beasts such as Gorgons and serpents, which represent the demons in Etruscan belief systems.
In the center stands the highly decorated crypt of Arnth Velimna, who is commemorated in the inscription on the doorpost of the entrance as one of the tomb’s founders. At the base are two statues of Furies, underworld creatures from Etruscan myth. While most of these Velimna family effigies date from the pre-Roman period, one has an inscription in Latin and is thought to be from the early years under Roman rule, when local mortuary traditions were still being observed.
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- Marcello Balzani
- Daniel Blersch
- Guido Galvani
- Nicola Zaltron
- Oliver Monson
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