Ancient image of childbirth discovered by blind archaeologist

This Etruscan ceramic fragment is over 2,600 years old, and it's quite possibly the oldest depiction of childbirth ever found in Europe. It's a marvelous sight to behold, but the person who actually discovered it hasn't even seen it.

The fragment is an artifact of the Etruscan civilization, which dominated Italy before the rise of the Romans. The image, which is surprisingly graphic for a ceramic fragment, is one of the few ancient depictions of childbirth that archaeologists have uncovered, and it's quite possibly the oldest known depiction in the western world. The fragment was discovered by William Nutt, a graduate student at the University of Texas, while excavating at the Poggio Colla site northeast of Florence.

Nutt explains the significance of the find:

"The image is unique because in the classical world, we don't see a lot of birthing scenes. The real question is if we don't see these types of birthing scenes anywhere else in classical art, then why is it on this pot? It obviously meant something to the people who were there and who made it. A number of kingdoms broke down and changed over a short period of about 100 years. Looking at the culture change helps us to learn a lot about how societies adapt to stress, what being a part of a society means and it helps us to learn about ourselves."

Nutt himself is legally blind, which at first might seem like a fairly big challenge to doing archaeological fieldwork. But, as he explains - and this finding confirms - vision isn't really required to excavate:

"I used dental tools and a sharpened trowel to slide along the ground. I'd run my hands along the soil, feeling and uncovering different layers. If I started to notice a soil change, I'd check with another excavator. I was really very fortunate to work with a great group of people."

Via the University of Texas. Image by Phil Perkins via New Scientist.