Remains of a male individual still held by shackles on his neck and ankles have been discovered in a 2,500-year-old tomb, at the Etruscan settlement of Populonia. The grave was found in a necropolis inside which all the other burial appeared 'normal', deepening the mystery about who the man was and what he had done to derserve this brutal treatment.

The Etruscan civilisation flourished in Tuscany between 700 BCE and the late 4th century CE, when it assimilated within the Roman Empire. Etruscans remain known for their impressive architecture, delicate art, fine metalwork, and agricultural skills.

But beyond its reputation as a refined society, the Etruscan civilisations could also be brutal and it relied extensively on slavery. The discovery of the shackled man is one example of this. Science website Seeker reports that the skeleton is that of a man in his twenties.

The archaeologists, led by Giorgio Baratti from the University of Milan, believe he was either a slave, or a man who had committed an unforgivable offence - which would explain why the shackles were not removed, even after his death.

Dating the burial

The team was surprised and puzzled as to why he was buried alongside people who were not shackled and didn't bear any signs of violence. However, they saw the other graves as an opportunity to date the man's tomb.

In his own grave, the absence of artefacts indeed made it difficult to come up with a precise date, but the archaeologists found another grave on top of his, which proved helpful. It was that of a woman who was buried with her earrings - objects which they were able to analyse. The objects suggest her burial occurred in the 4th century CE, and they estimate the shackled man's grave dates from at least a century before, in the 5th century CE.

More research inside the tomb will be needed to learn more about the individual. In particular, analysis of the bones may yield some clues about the man, including his origins and where he was born.