There are three theories that seek to explain the obscure origin of the Etruscans. Their language and culture differed markedly from that of other ancient peoples of the Italian peninsula at the time—Villanovans, Umbrians, and Picenes. As a result, many scholars long upheld the tradition of Herodotus that the Etruscans migrated to Italy from Lydia in the 12th cent. B.C. to escape a severe famine. Other scholars have argued that the Etruscans are an ancient people, indigenous to Italy, whose customs are merely distinct from other Italian peoples. The third theory—that the Etruscans came down from the north through the Alpine passes—has been largely discredited. Genetic studies in the early 21st cent. have shown similarities between the modern Tuscans and their cattle and people and cattle found in the Middle East.
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