IESP, The International Etruscan Sigla Project

The International Etruscan Sigla Project (IESP) has been designed to study the phenomenon of the Etruscan siglum (plural sigla), a mode of communication by making marks that are not developed texts of language with immediately recognizable words. The variety of abstract sigla will be presented below (see signary). In addition to these there are alphabetiform and numeriform marks that are included in the study of sigla.
The IESP is meant to meet the need of the scientific community, as a common work in progress, and help to develop shared guidelines.

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- Founding and Creation of the Project

This project was conceived by Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni (UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Milano) and Nancy T. de Grummond (Florida State University) in order to study the non-verbal markings, called sigla (singular siglum), found on Etruscan objects discovered in different excavation sites distributed widely in Italy with comparanda in the Mediterranean area.

In order to develop a collaborative knowledge management system for formulating new hypotheses about the meaning, purpose and use of sigla, the project was developed by an interdisciplinary team of experts.

Alessandra Gobbi conceived of the design of the database from the archaeological perspective while Stefano Valtolina, Barbara Rita Barricelli and Michele Sciarabba implemented the structure of the database (UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Milano).

- The Nature of Sigla

sigla may be painted, stamped or incised either before or after the production of the objects or monuments on which they appear (e.g., clay, stone, metal, bone, ivory) and occur in a number of different archaeological contexts (e.g., sacred contexts and artisans’ quarters, habitations and cemeteries). Etruscan sigla date from perhaps as early as the 8th century BCE and continue at least to the first century BCE. They were widely spread in Italy from the heartland of Etruria to the Po Valley and the Bay of Naples. Sometimes it is difficult to assign them to a given ancient language due to the well known complexity of contacts that took place in the ancient Mediterranean.

These characters receive different names in different modern languages, so that such sigla are usually well known in the epigraphic terminology as nota, notae or signum, signa.

sigla seem to perform an important role by conveying complex meanings in a synthetic way. The dissemination and the acceptance of such signs among a wide public seems to indicate that sigla were shared by all levels of the Etruscan community, thanks to the strong visual impact that characterizes this particular means of communication.

- Methodology of the IESP

In order to investigate the potential of communication of such markings, their significance and role in the frame of the information retrieved from their epigraphic supports and archaeological contexts, the IESP database online is meant to gather all the Etruscan sigla found so far and their related data. The principal aim of IESP is the creation of an interactive system based on an integration of different knowledge sources, able to recognize, group and compare similar sigla by means of different factors such as date, provenance, context, artifact type and function, and location of the marking on the artifact. Each siglum is represented in the database by an exact drawing (apograph) and other images as available.

The IESP offers scholars a collaborative knowledge platform from which they can compare and discuss interpretation problems linked to the meanings and the usages of sigla within Etruscan society. The system provides a flexible methodology allowing a wide range of interpretations according to the evidence that there is no single explanation that covers all usages of sigla.

To allow the whole scientific community to access and use the IESP database, a basic signary for sigla has been developed. The signary, using Latin names to describe the most recurrent abstract sigla, represents the first step towards an international terminology meant to gather, list and recognize most common sigla.

- Further Objectives

The website aims eventually to support information retrieval services such as:

  • to compare items by means of matching scanned images
  • to allow semantic queries in multiple languages and queries based on a thesaurus of terms (e.g. synonyms, broader terms, narrower terms)
  • to provide geographical information based on Google maps in order to design an atlas for territorial reading of the sigla in the database
  • to become a tool to exchange information and comments according to a social network environment.

An important parallel goal of the project is that the system may also be open to accept comparable sigla deriving from other cultures, different from the Etruscan but strictly related to it in Italy (the cultures of the Faliscans, Golasecca culture, etc.), or in the Mediterranean environment (Greece, Crete, the Near East, etc.)

- Link

  • Signary, a list of the abstract sigla
  • in progress