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Archaeologists find southwest Germany’s oldest golden artefact

Archaeologists working in the district of Tübingen in southwest Germany have discovered the region’s earliest known artefact made from gold.

In autumn 2020, researchers from the Universitaet Tübingen excavated a late Neolithic burial site that contained the remains of a woman placed in a fetal position.

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The only accompanying object was a spiral ring of gold that possibly formed part of a decorative hair ornament. The gold was likely sourced from Cornwall in Britain, and was transported to the continent though a far-reaching trading network that existed thousands of years ago.

Radiocarbon dating of the woman’s remains places the burial between about 1850 and 1700 BC, whilst the discovery of the golden spiral suggests that she was an individual of high status.

The excavation was led by Professor Raiko Krauss from the Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology at the University of Tübingen, and Dr. Jörg Bofinger from the Baden-Württemberg State Office for Cultural Heritage Management, based in Esslingen.

The Early Bronze Age female burial as found. The green pin (top center) marks the place the gold spiral was uncovered. Photo: University of Tübingen, Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology

Alloy points northwest instead of southeast

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The golden spiral contains about 20 percent silver, less than two percent copper, and has traces of platinum and tin. This composition points to a natural gold alloy typical of gold washed from rivers. The pattern of trace elements resembles that of gold from deposits in Cornwall, specifically from the Carnon River area.

This clear connection to north-western Europe contrasts with older gold and precious metal finds in Europe, which originated almost exclusively from deposits in south-eastern Europe.

The research team considers the gold find from the Tübingen district as evidence that western cultural groups gained increasing influence over central Europe in the first half of the second millennium BC. The woman’s grave was located not far from a group of other Early Bronze Age burials and is apparently connected with the prehistoric hilltop settlement on the nearby Kirchberg.

Universitaet Tübingen

Header Image Credit : Yvonne Mühleis, LAD Esslingen

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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