Last month a beet farmer in the Czech Republic uprooted an ornate Bronze Age gold artefact. It was well preserved in mud and the anonymous farmer photographed the golden treasure then sent the pictures to archaeologists in the Silesian Regional Museum in Opava, a town in the Moravian-Silesian Region.
The wafer thin and crumpled gold leaf is estimated to have been created about 2,500 years ago.
The appearance of the Bronze Age gold artefact before preservation. ( Bruntál Museum )
Created with Supernatural Concepts in Mind
Dr. Jiří Juchelka is an Opava archaeologist who heads the archaeological sub-collection of the Silesia Regional Museum. The researcher told Radio Prague International (RPI) that the gold piece measures “51 centimeters (20 inches) long” and was found in “almost perfect condition” with silver, copper, and iron inclusions. The museologist said, “it is decorated with raised concentric circles and topped with rose-shaped clasps at the end.”
According to Live Science, museum curator Teresa Alex Kilnar said that while no one can be sure, the gold artifact was most likely “the front of a leather belt.” But this is no ordinary buckle either, as archaeologists believe it was built with cosmological/supernatural concepts in mind.
3,500 Years Old and Still Shining
Dr. Kilnar is currently preserving and analyzing the buckle at the Bruntál Museum. According to the museum website, it is a contribution organization of the Moravian-Silesian Region, which manages important cultural heritage sites in northern Moravia – Bruntál Castle, Sovinec Castle and House of Scythe in Karlovice in Silesia.
Without having tested the gold, and based only on the artistic style, Kilnar suspects that the gold belt buckle dates to around the middle to late Bronze Age, which means that the piece was worn around the 14th century BC At that time small communities of farmers lived in timber frame houses and had not yet begun to form the larger agricultural settlements that occurred in the following centuries.
Researchers believe the gold belt buckle dates to around the middle to late Bronze Age. ( Bruntál Museum )
Putting a Face to Discovery
Earlier this year a team of Czech archaeologists published the image of a Bronze Age woman that was reconstructed after DNA analysis. The woman was unearthed from an “elite grave” in Mikulovice, in East Bohemia. According to a report in Expat.cz, she had “fair skin, brown hair, wide-spaced brown eyes, prominent chin, petite figure,” and she died around 35 years old.
Described as having “one of the richest [Bronze Age burials] ever discovered in Europe,” the woman was from the Únětice culture, and she was found wearing bronze and gold jewelry, including a rare amber necklace. This group of early agriculturalists lived in Central Europe from about 2300 to 1600 BC, and they were contemporary with the culture that created the Bronze Age gold belt.
Elite Connections with the Otherworld
It cannot be determined exactly which group made the gold buckle, because at that time (2000 BC to 1200 BC) Central Europe was a rich fusion of different cultures. Smaller communities began to come together and formed a trade network from which livestock and crops such as wheat and barley were exchanged.
This period saw new social divisions emerge. Those people who controlled the lands around the emerging trade centers represented the origins of social elites. At that time silver and gold became hallmarks of the controlling economic class and Kilnar told RPI that the gold object probably belonged to someone in “a high position in society, as items of such value were rarely produced at the time.”
Professor Catherine Frieman at the Australian National University is a specialist in European Bronze Age metalworking. She agreed, and told RPI that the owner of the gold belt buckle “was someone of high status, either social or spiritual.”
The gold object probably belonged to someone in “a high position in society, because things of such value were rarely produced at the time.” ( Bruntál Museum )
Creation of Cosmology in Bronze Age Gold
Live Science reports that during the Bronze Age gold objects, and gold hoards, were generally buried “in special, isolated locations suggesting a kind of gift exchange between the cultural elite and the supernatural.” Frieman told LiveScience in an email that gold objects with circular motifs are often linked to “Bronze Age cosmological systems believed to focus on solar cycles.”
In 2013, Dr. Joachim Goldhahn at the University of Western Australia published a paper “rethinking cosmology in the Bronze Age using a northern European perspective.” This researcher determined that the cosmologies of the Bronze Age world were based on “pragmatic ritualized practices that were continually repeated and recreated at certain times and occasions.”
Thus, the gold belt fastener most likely represents the annual cycle of the sun. But more so it may have been a centerpiece in a repeated ritual, and worn at specific “times and occasions” in the year, for example, perhaps to symbolically mark key phases of the solar cycle, such as the equinoxes and solstices.
Top Image: The Bronze Age gold artifact found in a beet field in the Czech Republic. Source: Bruntál Museum
By Ashley Cowie