Copyright 2006

[ June 20th 2006 ]

An 82-year-old Austrian tour guide - who police were questioning for looting ancient artefacts - has led Italian authorities to a new archaeological site that some experts say houses the oldest paintings in the history of Western civilization, Reuters reports.

"It's a prince's tomb that is unique, and I would say is at the origins of Western art," said Minister Francesco Rutelli, standing on what, until two weeks ago when the site was found, was just a field of barley. The tomb - carved into a hillside - is decorated with colourful frescoes which archaeologists said were 2,700 years old.

"There are thousands of tombs here," said Francesca Boitani, a culture ministry archaeologist, pointing to the rolling hills north of Rome which were once home to the Etruscan city of Veia. "But this one, it's the pictures that that are stunning. They give a sense of the primitive."

According to Reuters, it is the primitive nature of the paintings that has convinced the experts that they are at least a generation older than any others yet found - dating from 700-680 BC.

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