Etruria emerged from the Bronze Age with a distinctive culture already formed. We call this early period (9th–8th centuries BC) Villanovan, after a cemetery near Bologna. The people of the Villanovan period were a society of warrior-farmers living in small hut-villages. Their control of mines of metal ores and their expertise in metallurgy are hallmarks of this era.

The honored dead were cremated and buried in pits. Distinctive urns capped with a bowl or a warrior’s helmet held the ashy bones. The family might deposit offerings of food in bowls or cups, and personal belongings, like a man’s razor, tools, or weapons, or a woman’s jewelry or spinning equipment.

During the 11th–10th centuries BC, most burial goods showed little differentiation in wealth, but by the 9th–8th centuries BC, an "elite" had emerged. As Etruria grew richer, her people carried objects of greater value into the afterlife. The first recognizable aristocrats received symbolic grave offerings: tokens of horse and chariot ownership, tributes of arms and armor, or jewelry made with imported Baltic amber.