An Early Bronze Age Burial with a Golden Spiral Ring from Ammerbuch-Reusten, Southwestern Germany

  • Curt Engelhorn Zentrum Archäometrie and University of Heidelberg
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A women’s burial of the Early Bronze Age that was uncovered near Ammerbuch-Reusten, Tübingen district in autumn 2020 shows clear relations to burial rites of the Final Neolithic in central Europe. The only grave good was in the rear of the burial. A small spiral ring made of gold wire at the left side of the burial at hip level, which can be considered to be the earliest securely dated precious metal find in southwestern Germany. The find fits into a small series of early spiral rings made of gold wire, which are among the oldest precious metal finds in central Europe. Its composition with c. 20 % silver and less than 2 % copper as well as traces of platinum and tin indicates the use of a naturally occurring gold alloy, most likely from so-called alluvial deposits obtained by panning from rivers. The trace element pattern strongly suggests that this type of gold derives from Cornwall, specifically from River Carnon. The burial matches a group of other burials from the Bronze Age on the plateau and is apparently related to a hilltop settlement on the nearby Kirchberg of Reusten.

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The rich and long-lasting Nordic Bronze Age was dependent throughout on incoming flows of copper and tin. The crucial turning point for the development of the NBA can be pinpointed as the second phase of the Late Neolithic (LN II, c. 2000-1700 BC) precisely because the availability and use of metal increased markedly at this time. But the precise provenance of copper reaching Scandinavia in the early second millennium is still unclear and our knowledge about the driving force leading to the establishment of the Bronze Age in southern Scandinavia is fragmentary and incomplete. This study, drawing on a large data set of 210 samples representing almost 50% of all existing metal objects known from this period in Denmark, uses trace element (EDXRF) and isotope analyses (MC-ICP-MS) of copper-based artifacts in combination with substantial typological knowledge to profoundly illuminate the contact directions, networks and routes of the earliest metal supplies. It also presents the first investigation of local recycling or mixing of metals originating from different ore regions. Both continuity and change emerge clearly in the metal-trading networks of the Late Neolithic to the first Bronze Age period. Artifacts in LN II consist mainly of high-impurity copper (so-called fahlore type copper), with the clear exception of British imports. Targeted reuse of foreign artifacts in local production is demonstrated by the presence of British metal in local-style axes. The much smaller range of lead isotope ratios among locally crafted compared to imported artifacts is also likely due to mixing. In the latter half of Nordic LN II (1800-1700 BC), the first signs emerge of a new and distinct type of copper with low impurity levels, which gains enormously in importance later in NBA IA.
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The Early Bronze Age Nebra Sky Disk, central Germany, comprises different types of gold inlays which have been plated and punched onto a bronze disk in three phases. The present study aims at provenancing the gold, used for the first phase, which includes gold sheets in the shape of a sun or full moon, a crescent-shaped moon, and 32 stars. The geochemical composition, determined by LA-ICP-MS, of one fragment of the sun sheet is compared with 66 native gold particles from six placer deposits and one lode gold deposit in Cornwall. The focus on Cornish gold deposits is based on results of previous provenance and tin isotope studies. The geochemical survey is performed using distinctive geochemical tracers (e.g., Co, Ni, Cu, Ru, Pd, Ag, Sn, Sb, Ir, and Pt) which are characterized by high stability during geological and metallurgical processes. For Cornwall, the Carnon gold placers at the localities Devoran and Feock show different variations in Co, Ni, Pd, Ag, Sn, and Sb which correlate with the variation found in the gold from the sun sheet when mixed. This mixture would have been easily possible as both localities are located about three km apart from each other. Similar geochemical comparisons with natural gold from central and southeastern Europe, carried out in a previous provenance study, showed no similarity with the sun sheet. Differences in Cu and Pt contents between the Carnon gold placers and the sun sheet, which have also been detected for the previously studied gold deposits, question the relevance of mineral (micro) inclusions and accretions or unintended contamination with heavy minerals during processing. The results on the gold further led to the comparison of 18 Cornish copper ores with the bronze of the Nebra hoard using lead isotope ratios, which showed no correlation, excluding Cornwall as copper source. With the gold of the first phase of the Nebra Sky Disk being likely to originate from Cornwall, substantial metal trade from the British Isles towards central Germany during the Early Bronze Age must be assumed.
Iron Age Gold in Celtic Europe. Society, Technology and Archaeometry
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