Gold spiral ring

This ring is a significant discovery because it represents the earliest gold object from a clear and well-dated context discovered in this region so far.

What is it?

This small spiral made of gold wire was found in an Early Bronze Age grave in Germany dated to between c.1850 and 1700 BC.

The object consists of a piece of flat wire, about 6cm long, which has been double-laid and wrapped twice around a flexible core to bend it into a spiral ring. The ring is 5.1mm tall, with an uneven diameter of 11.3-11.7mm, and weighs just 0.6g.

Image: Yvonne Mühleis, LAD Esslingen.

There are signs of usage around the ring, and the edges of the wire are rounded, possibly by repeated rubbing against hair or fabric. It is thought that the ring is probably a hair ornament, and its position at the hip level of the burial may indicate that it was woven into a braid.

Where was it found and when?

The ring was found in autumn 2020 during excavations of an Early Bronze Age female burial near Ammerbuch-Reusten, Tübingen, south-west Germany. The burial was oriented west–east, with the woman placed in a foetal position – a style found in many late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age burials in central Europe. Located nearby is a group of other Early Bronze Age burials, as well as the prehistoric hilltop settlement of Kirchberg. This burial’s isolated location suggests that it may originally have been covered by a tumulus, although no traces of this remain.

The spiral ring was the only grave good in the burial, found on the left side of the woman’s body, but nonetheless indicates that she was a wealthy and high-status individual.

Why does it matter?

This ring is a significant discovery because it represents the earliest gold object from a clear and well-dated context discovered in this region so far. Precious metal finds from the Early Bronze Age are very rare in south-western Germany, and those that have previously been identified are mostly made of bronze.

The composition of the gold from which the ring is made contributes to the object’s importance, too. The metal contains about 20% silver and less than 2% copper, as well as traces of platinum and tin, which points to a naturally occurring gold alloy, probably obtained through panning from rivers. The pattern of these trace elements is very similar to the gold deposits found in the Carnon River area of Cornwall in south-west Britain. This type of gold was also used for the gold inlays on the Nebra Sky Disc, another important Bronze Age find from Germany (see CWA 92).

This offers a fascinating new insight into contact between south-west Germany and other regions in this period. Almost all examples of earlier gold and precious metal finds from central Europe come from deposits in south-western Europe, which makes this discovery particularly interesting, since it provides evidence for the growing influence of cultural groups in north-western Europe over those in central Europe in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC.

The ring is currently kept in the State Office for Cultural Heritage Management in Esslingen, but may be presented to the public in an exhibition of finds from the site once excavations are complete.
More information about the ring is available in an article recently published in Praehistorische Zeitschrift.