A spiral ring found in an Early Bronze Age burial near Ammerbuch-Reusten in Tübingen, Germany, may have been made using gold alloy from Cornwall, researchers at the University of Tübingen have found.
After a number of human bone fragments were discovered on farmland to the west of Tübingen, a rescue excavation was carried out in a collaboration between the Institute of Prehistory, Early History, and Medieval Archaeology at Tübingen University and the State Office for Cultural Heritage Management in Baden-Württemberg (LAD) in September of last year. Almost immediately, skull fragments were discovered just under the surface, and soon a whole inhumation became apparent, revealing the crouched burial of a young woman aged between 18 and 21 at the time of her death.
The grave was oriented west–east, and although radiocarbon dated to 1861-1616 calBC, appears to have retained some late Neolithic burial traditions. The only artefact found was the gold ring, located around hip level. It was made of a double-laid flat wire bent into a spiral, and its rounded edges along with signs of abrasions suggest that the ring was well-used before deposition. Small rings like these appear to have been fairly common across Central Europe during the Bronze Age, and they are thought to have been worn as hair accessories. They appear to have been more commonly made of silver, but some gold examples are known from elsewhere on the Continent. In general, though, gold artefacts from this period are extremely rare in south-western Germany, suggesting that the woman may have been of fairly high social status.
As gold was not common in this region during the Bronze Age, the question for the researchers became: where did the gold come from? The composition of the ring was analysed by a team from the Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie in Mannheim using laser ablation in combination with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. They found that the ring was probably made from a naturally occurring gold alloy with around 20% silver, less than 2% copper, and traces of platinum and tin.
This composition, and particularly the high concentration of copper, is not in line with gold native to the area, which usually contains less than 0.5% of this element. Instead, the alloy’s major and trace element pattern most closely resembles gold from Cornwall, specifically from the Carnon River, between present-day Truro and Falmouth. As spiral rings like this are not known in Britain during this period, the researchers believe the gold was probably brought to Central Europe in its raw form and shaped into a ring once there.
A few other Early Bronze Age artefacts, notably from along the Danube in Hungary and Romania, have also been identified as being made of gold that may have originated in Cornwall. This identification of Cornish gold in Central Europe indicates that there was probably contact between these two regions during the Bronze Age, and perhaps even a well-established trade route. Previous studies have already shown that there was a booming business in the trading of gold between Cornwall and Ireland during this period (see CA 305), and now it seems that this trade may have extended even further afield.
The full results of the analysis were recently published in the journal Praehistorische Zeitschrift.