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October 25, 2011

Virginia Curry: From the FBI to Etruscan archaeological sites

Southern Methodist University reported on October 18: "Ancient Etruscan childbirth image is likely first for western art".

by Virginia Curry

In 2009, I had the honor of lecturing at ARCA’s First International Symposium in Amelia on the topic of “Crimes by Those Most Trusted” in which I highlighted my interviews and investigation of Dr. Marion True which as an FBI Special Agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Office, I performed pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request of the Italian Government. Those interviews resulted in the Getty Museum’s first return of two objects purchased without receipt or provenance: an Etruscan tripod and a candelabrum to Italy. After retirement from the FBI, I enrolled as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, majoring in Art History and had an experience which re-kindled my desire to preserve and protect cultural patrimony. Now working on my thesis which considers the Etruscans in their funerary context, I am especially sensitive to our inability to now connect some of these artifacts with their historic context.

Also in 2009, I had the unique opportunity to participate in the six week Poggio Colla Field School and Mugello Valley Archeological Project as teaching assistant to Professor P. Gregory Warden, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Associate Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU, who co-directs this project with Professor Michael L. Thomas, University of Texas. Sponsoring institutions of the Poggio Colla Field School include the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The Poggio Colla Field School is unique because of its inter-disciplinary and hands-on approach to the regional landscape analysis which combines excavation, land survey, archaeometry and visiting lecturers who are leaders in their field, such as Professor Phil Perkins, London Open University and others. Professor Perkins, an expert on Etruscan black paste pottery known as “Bucchero” recently identified two pottery fragments excavated by a student in this field school at Poggio Colla as the earliest representations of a birthing scene found in Western art.

This is also an exciting program because of the emphasis given to local community outreach programs which include a local Dicomano Museum exhibit of the artifacts in their own region and opportunities for local Italian high school students to learn field techniques and excavate at the site with a local archeologist. Parents and students learn the importance of physical context of the find and pride in the preservation of their local history.

The goals of the Poggio Colla Field School are summarized on the Mugello Valley Project Website, “Mugello Valley Archeological Project” found at

“If archaeology is to survive as a discipline into the next century, it will have to develop a broader base of support and will have to change its image from an elite and esoteric discipline understood by only a chosen few. Archaeological sites are becoming endangered by pollution, construction, and human pressures that run the gamut from neglect to outright vandalism. We hope that over the years, through our field school, we will train a large number of individuals, some of whom may go on to become professional archaeologists, but most of whom, no matter what their career, will become advocates of cultural and archaeological preservation.”