Last month, a beet grower in the Czech Republic uprooted an ornate Bronze Age gold artifact. It was well preserved in the mud, and the anonymous farmer photographed the golden treasure, then sent the images to archaeologists at the Silesian Regional Museum in Opava, a town in the Moravian-Silesian region.
It is estimated that the thin and wrinkled gold sheet was created about 2500 years ago.
Appearance of Bronze Age gold artefact before preservation. ( Bruntál Museum )
Designed with supernatural concepts in mind
Dr. Jiří Juchelka is an archaeologist from Opava who heads the archaeological sub-collection of the Silesian Regional Museum. The researcher told Radio Prague International (RPI) that the piece of gold is “51 centimeters (20 inches)” long and was found in “almost perfect condition” with inclusions of silver, copper and iron. The museologist said: “it is decorated with raised concentric circles and topped with rose-shaped clasps.”
According to Live Science, museum conservator Teresa Alex Kilnar said that while no one can be sure, the gold artifact was likely “the front of a leather belt.” But it’s no ordinary belt buckle either, as archaeologists believe it was built with cosmological/supernatural concepts in mind.
3500 years old and still shining
dr. Kilnár is currently preserving and analyzing the belt buckle at the Bruntál Museum. According to the museum’s website, this is an investment organization of the Moravian-Silesian region that manages important cultural heritage sites in northern Moravia – Bruntál Castle, Sovinec Castle and the Scythe Maker’s House in Karlowitz, Silesia.
Without testing the gold and based on the artistic style alone, Kilnar suspects the gold belt buckle dates to around the Middle to Late Bronze Age, meaning the piece was worn around the 14th century BC. At that time, small farming communities lived in timber frame houses and had not yet begun to form the larger agricultural settlements that arose in the following centuries.
Researchers believe the gold belt buckle dates to around the Middle to Late Bronze Age. ( Bruntál Museum )
The face of discovery
Earlier this year, a team of Czech archaeologists published an image of a Bronze Age woman reconstructed after DNA analysis. The woman was exhumed from an “elite grave” in the town of Mikulovice, East Bohemia. According to a report by Expat.cz, she had “fair skin, brown hair, wide-set brown eyes, prominent chin, petite figure” and died around 35 years old.
Described as “one of the richest [Bronze Age burials] ever discovered in Europe,” the woman was from the Únětice culture and 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 were contemporary with the culture that developed the Bronze Age gold belt fastener.
Elite connections with the other world
It is impossible to determine exactly which group made the gold buckle, because at the time (2000 BCE to 1200 BCE) Central Europe was a rich fusion of different cultures. Smaller communities began to band together and form a trade network where livestock and crops such as wheat and barley were exchanged.
New social divisions emerged during this period. Those people who controlled the lands around the future trading centers represented the origins of the society’s elite. At the time, silver and gold became hallmarks of the ruling economic class, and Kilnar told the RPI that the gold may have belonged to someone “high in society, as such valuable commodities were rarely produced at the time”.
Professor Katherine Freeman of 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 social or spiritual status”.
The gold object probably belonged to someone “of a high position in society, as objects of such value were rarely produced at the time”. ( Bruntál Museum )
Shaping Cosmology in Bronze Age Gold
Live Science reports that during the Bronze Age, gold objects and gold hoards were usually buried in “special, isolated sites, suggesting some kind of gift exchange between the cultural elite and the supernatural.” Freeman told LiveScience in an email that gold objects with circular motifs are often associated with “Bronze Age cosmological systems thought to focus on solar cycles.”
In 2013, Dr. Joachim Goldhn of the University of Western Australia published the paper Rethinking Cosmology in the Bronze Age through a Northern European Perspective. This researcher found that the cosmologies of the Bronze Age world were based on “pragmatic ritualized practices that were constantly repeated and renewed at specific times and occasions.”
Thus, the gold belt mount likely represents the annual solar cycle. But even more, it may have been the centerpiece of a recurring ritual and worn at certain ‘times and occasions’ of the year, for example to symbolically mark key stages of the solar cycle, such as the equinoxes and solstices.
Top image: Bronze Age gold artifact found in a beet field in the Czech Republic. Source: Bruntál Museum
By Ashley Cowie