The Etruscans, a massively influential culture admired by both ancient Greeks and Romans, are largely a mystery to us today because much of their writing has perished, Ars Technica reports. That may change with a 500-pound slab of sandstone containing 70 letters and punctuation marks from the Etruscan language discovered by archaeologists northeast of Florence, Italy, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The more-than-2,500-year-old stone, known as a stele, was used to mark a temple before being repurposed into a foundation stone for a much larger temple. In a press release, archaeologist Gregory Warden stays the stele "will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions."
Oddly, the Etruscan language doesn't appear to be related to other nearby languages, and Etruscans mostly wrote on non-lasting materials like cloth and wax. Prior to the discovery of the stele, scholars largely had to rely on the "rote phrases and praise for the dead" found on Etruscan gravestones to try to decipher their language, Ars Technica notes. “Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text,” Warden says. The Etruscans were notably religious, and scholars hope the stele could reveal information about one of the gods or goddesses they worshiped. The stele is being cleaned and scanned in Florence, Italy, and then an Etruscan language expert will have a go at it. (An ancient find solved a centuries-old Jewish riddle.)