Last month a beet farmer 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 and then sent the images to archaeologists at the Silesian Regional Museum in Opava, a town in the Moravian-Silesian region.
The thin, crumpled gold leaf is estimated to have been created around 2,500 years ago.
Pre-preservation Bronze Age gold artefact display. ( Bruntál Museum )
Created with supernatural concepts in mind
Dr. Jiří Juchelka is an Opava archaeologist who heads the archaeological sub-collection of the Regional Museum of Silesia. The researcher told Radio Prague International (RPI) that the gold piece is “51 centimeters (20 inches) long and was found in an “almost perfect condition” with inclusions of silver, copper and iron. The museologist said, “It is decorated with raised concentric circles and surmounted by a rose-shaped clasp at the bottom.”
According to Live Science, the museum’s curator, Tereza Alex Kilnar, said that while no one can be sure, the golden artifact is most likely “the advancement of a leather belt.” But this is no ordinary belt either, because 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 belt buckle at the Bruntál Museum. According to the museum’s website, it is a contributing organization of the Moravian-Silesian Region that administers important cultural heritage sites in northern Moravia – Bruntál Chateau, Sovinec Castle and the House of the Scythe Maker in Karlovice in Silesia.
Without testing the gold and based on the artistic style alone, Kilnar suspects the gold belt buckle dates to around the mid to late Bronze Age, meaning the piece was worn around the 14th century BC. At this time, small farming communities lived in timber-framed houses and had not yet begun to form the larger agricultural settlements that emerged in the following centuries.
Researchers believe that the gold belt buckle dates to around the Middle to Late Bronze Age. ( Bruntál Museum )
Putting a face to a discovery
Earlier this year, a team of Czech archaeologists published the image of a Bronze Age woman, which was reconstructed after DNA analysis. The woman was discovered from an ‘elite grave’ in Mikulovice, East Bohemia. According to a report in Expat.cz, she had “fair skin, brown hair, wide brown eyes, a prominent chin, a petite figure” and died around the age of 35.
Described as “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 farmers lived in Central Europe from 2300 to 1600 BC, and they were contemporary with the culture that created the Bronze Age gold belt buckle.
Elite connections with the other world
It cannot be determined exactly which group made the gold buckles, because at that time (2000 BC to 1200 BC) Central Europe was a rich melting pot of different cultures. Smaller communities began to join together and form a trading network through which livestock and crops such as wheat and barley were exchanged.
In this period, new social divisions appeared. Those people who controlled the lands surrounding the developing commercial centers represented the origin of the social elites. At the time, silver and gold became hallmarks of the ruling economic class, and Kilnar told the RPI that the gold item probably belonged to someone in a “high position in society, because 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 golden belt buckle “was someone of high status, either socially or spiritually”.
The gold probably belonged to someone with “a high position in society, because articles of such value were rarely produced at that time.” ( Bruntál Museum )
The creation of cosmology in Bronze Age gold
Live Science reports that during the Bronze Age, gold objects and gold hoards were generally buried “in separate, isolated locations suggesting some 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 associated with “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 Bronze Age cosmology using a northern European perspective”. This scholar determined that the cosmologies of the Bronze Age world were based on “pragmatic ritualized practices, which were constantly repeated and recreated at specific times and occasions.”
Thus, the gold belt buckle probably represents the annual cycle of the sun. But it may also have been a central part in a repeated ritual and worn at specific “times and occasions” of the year, for example, perhaps to mark symbolically the main phases of the sun’s 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