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Given the differences between Etruscan civilisation and other Italian peoples of the same period, is the conclusion that Etruscan civilisation was autochthonous sensible?

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It depends entirely on your definition. Before the Etruscans there probably lived some other group of people in Tuscany, and before them another.

If you consider where Etruscan culture developed as we know it, Wikipedia has a fairly good answer:

Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately [in the area] of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century to [an Etruscan] culture that was influenced by Greek traders and Greek neighbours in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. — Wikipedia on the Etruscan Civilization.

However, it is unknown where the Etruscan people came from genetically, or at least not their typically Etruscan genetic origin (they no doubt mixed blood with various other groups in the area). There are two hypotheses (from Wikipedia on Etruscan Origins):

  1. They developed out of the Villanovan culture that was in that region before them. Their ancestors were prehistoric people that had been in Europe for a long time, though their precise movements are unknown.

  2. They migrated to Italy from Anatolia.

Recent DNA and mitochondrian-DNA research provide some tentative evidence for the migration hypothesis: various genetic similarities have been found between Etruscan bones, modern Tuscans, and modern Tuscan cattle on the one hand, and people and cattle in Turkey and the Caucasus on the other. — Wikipedia.

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Where culture is concerned, I'd rather see reasoning based on linguistic studies than genetic ones, if possible. With a bit of work a person can change the culture they live in, but culture and language are nearly inextricably tied. – T.E.D. Apr 23 '12 at 20:12
@T.E.D.: Language is part of culture. In any case, linguistic evidence is scarce. All we know more or less for sure is that Etruscan together with Lenmian and Rhaetic forms a very small language family, Tyrrhenian, as far as we know unrelated to any other. There are speculations about a relation with Indo-European. So this does not help us. It is of course striking that a Tyrrhenian language was spoken so close to Anatolia (on Lemnos); but still there is nothing like a consensus, alas. – Cerberus Apr 24 '12 at 3:29
@T.E.D. incidentally linguistics and genetics very often corroborate. In the case of Etruscan, they do if you take into account theories linking Etruscan with Caucasian languages. – Alain Pannetier May 5 '12 at 22:15
@AlainPannetier - The romantic in me has always been fond of that theory, along with the one that links both with Basque. Sadly, the logician in me isn't convinced, and neither are most linguists these days. – T.E.D. May 6 '12 at 3:49
@T.E.D. The romantic in you might wish to read this short study by Robert Beekes a professor of pre-greek at Leyden. His theory is well received and as he somewhat provocatively puts it in his introduction "Nowadays most scholars are convinced that they came from Asia Minor; only in Italy does a large number of scholars deny or doubt this". There are also a few authors who seem to believe that the Aeneid is an Etruscan Uhrheimat myth imported into Roman mythology. – Alain Pannetier Jun 24 '12 at 21:16

The term "autochthonous" basically means the same as indigenous. Therefore, I interpret your question as asking if it is valid to claim that the Etruscan Civilization could be considered to be indigenous to the portion of Italy where they resided. The answer to that would be "yes".

The Estruscans were a unique civilation that resided in the northern part of Italy. they had their own language, their own forms of government, and their own distinct culture. According to wikipedia, they had existed for about 600 years before they became a part of the Roman Republic.

Roman mythology tells the story of Romulus and Remus and how they founded Rome. The manner in which they selected the location appeared to follow Etruscan tradition, and the name Rome is believed by some to be Etruscan.

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It is my understanding that genetic research now tentatively supports Herodotus's claim (previously considered just another of his wild concoctions) that the Etruscans had originated in Asia Minor. Moreover, the same is true of Tuscan cattle as opposed to cattle in other parts of Italy.

The Lemnos stele inscribed in a language very similar to Etruscan does not contradict this theory, either, given the position of the island of Lemnos.

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