During excavations near Tübingen, archaeologists discovered the tomb of an early Bronze Age woman with an unusual burial gift: a small spiral made of gold wire – possibly a hair ornament – appeared to be the earliest reliable gold discovery in southwestern Germany. Unlike most ancient gold and precious metals discoveries in Europe, the gold does not come from southeastern Europe, but from Cornwall, as the analyzes have shown.
Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have conducted excavations near Ammerbuch-Reusten in the Tübingen region since 2020. The remains of a Neolithic hill settlement were discovered earlier in the nearby Reustener Kirchberg. At the foot of the hill is a cemetery in which many human remains from the early Bronze Age have been discovered.
Ring made of coiled gold wire
In the fall of 2020, during excavations, Rikku Krause and his colleagues stumbled across another tomb that held the bones of a woman who died about 3,800 years ago. The bodies of the dead were buried sideways. This type of burial still conforms to the tradition of the late Neolithic period in Central Europe, archaeologists explain. The only addition they found in the grave was a ring made of gold wire behind the buried woman, waist high. The ring, which has a diameter of about twelve millimeters, consists of a flat golden wire spirally wrapped in a ring.
“The discovery fits into a small, manageable group of rings made of gold wire, which are among the oldest discoveries of this kind in Central Europe,” archaeologists explain. These rings are mostly made by first pressing fine gold into rectangular wooden shapes and then hammering them into thin strips. It was then assembled into a spiral loop, which could then be worn as a lock to clothes or as a hair ornament. As reported by Krause and his team, the gold ring found in the grave near Reusten could be worn by the woman as a hair ornament. They interpret the discovery of this gold piece of jewelry as a sign of the wearer’s high social status.
Gold came from Cornwall
Historiography confirms that gold jewelery dates from the nineteenth and seventeenth centuries BC. The tiny spiral ring is thus the oldest definitely dated discovery of a piece made of gold or the precious metal in southwestern Germany. Chemical analyzes of the material also showed that the gold wire contained a mixture of about 20 percent silver, less than 2 percent copper, and traces of platinum and tin. “This formula refers to a natural gold alloy typical of placer gold washed from river soap,” said Krause and colleagues. However, at the same time, the formation also provided indications of the source of this gold in Europe: the trace element pattern is similar to the gold pattern of sediments in Cornwall in southwestern England, particularly from the Carnon River catchment area, the research team report.
Krause and his team said this distinct reference to Baden-Württemberg’s gold jewelry to northwestern Europe is a great one. Ancient discoveries of gold and precious metals in Europe known to date came almost exclusively from sediments in southeastern Europe. There are jewelry made of gold that were made from the 5th millennium BCE. Thus the fact that the jewelry piece from the Ammerbuch-Reusten tomb was made of Cornish gold is unusual – perhaps evidence that cultural groups from Western Europe were gaining increasing influence in Central Europe at this time, scholars explain. In any case, the ring is an early testament to the fact that luxurious pieces were exchanged over great distances as early as the early Bronze Age.
Source: University of Tübingen, Article by: Praehistorische Zeitschrift, Doi: 10.1515 / pz-2021-0010