Monday, March 19, 2007

An Indo-Europeanist on Etruscans   posted by Razib @ 3/19/2007 11:50:00 PM

I'm rereading In Search of the Indo-Europeans by J.P. Mallory. Here is Mallory (1989) on the Etruscans:

...This raises the entire problem of Etruscan origins which has filled volumes...and is as heatedly debated as the problems concerning Indo-European origins. There is no easy solution, since the evidence is extremely self-contradictory. Nevertheless, the present tendency in Etruscan research is to adopt the most economical hypothesis: the Etruscans were a non-Indo-European people native to Italy who adopted many items and styles of east Mediterranean provenience by way of trade....

Mallory is an outsider to Etruscan studies, but I think it goes to show that the dominant view was the 'economical' one. I don't see any problem with this, the fact is that researchers did have confusing, contradictory and fragmentary pieces of evidence to go on. The idea of a mass folk migration from western Anatolia by a mysterious people to the northwest coast of Italy does seem far fetched. But, I think the the character of the mtDNA phylogeny strongly suggests just such a movement. This is a case where reading passages like this can be very illuminating, because the scholars did have many somewhat instructive variables which just didn't "gel" together in an authoritative manner. In many ways the tentative consensus was the inverse of the reality, it was the Etruscans who adopted the customs and ways of the local indigenous substrate, not the locals adopting Etruscan culture from the eastern Mediterranean. With the powerful genetic evidence the priors are reshaped, and what were once variables of uncertain veracity can now be sifted appropriately, and the contradictions melt away. Interestingly, Mallory notes that many of the theories about the origins of the Indo-European peoples of Anatolia are dependent on Herodotus.

Related: Etruscans - the consensus?

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