Mysterious ancient amulet

A few days ago on Christie’s website I stumbled on an curious gold amulet found in the Balkan territory and created around the 5th millennium BC. Technically it can be divided into two parts: a circular form with a large central perforation in the center, crowned with a trapezoidal element, also perforated.

Late chalcolithic gold amulet. Anatolian or Balkan, circa 5th millennium b.c. © Christies

I was curious if similar pendants existed. On the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery website I found another piece which had almost identical design. It was forged from a very thin gold leaf and consisted of same elements. The presence of holes reasonably made us think about a pendant used for necklace or earrings.

Anatolian gold ring “idol”. 3500 BC – 2500 BC. ©Phoenix Ancient Art

It turns out that similar pieces were found in modern-day Bulgaria, Northern Greece and Anatolia.

Gold amulet. Circa 5th millennium B.C. ©Christie’s

The Varna Necropolis, an ancient burial site of the 5th millennium BC, located in northeastern Bulgaria, was discovered in 1972. Bulgarian archaeologists spent about fifteen years excavating 312 graves. It was found almost 3000 gold pieces, with a total weight of more than 6 kg and more than 600 ceramic objects. All date from a relatively brief period, between 4600 and 4200. It was an important milestone in the history of mankind, when people were just beginning to reveal the secrets of metalworking.

This gold pendant with carnelian and Spondillus shell was found in the cenotaph, a symbolic grave without human remains. By the way these types of graves turned out to be the richest with gold artefacts, and, perhaps, were dedicated to the cult of ancestors or some local pantheon.

Archaeologists believe that such a jewelry could be worn by a woman at the end of the Copper Age. Its unique color combination may also indicate social stratification in the ancient community.

Necklace of gold and mineral pieces with gold amulet, Eneolithic necropolis, late Eneolithic period. Varna Archeological museum

These gold pendants were often strung with stone beads. Someone believe that they could represent pregnant women.

Gold pendants. Varna Region Museum of History

The gold composition of pendants in the photo below is interesting and very curious. Their analyses showed the following: 50 per cent gold, 14 per cent silver and 36 per cent copper. In the archeological article dedicated to the invention of gold metallurgy on the basis of gold objects from the Varna I cemetery it was assumed that “by the addition of copper, the fine metalworker perhaps tried to manipulate the colour to make the initially green-yellowish gold (with c. 80 per cent gold and 20 per cent silver) appear more yellowish, or perhaps they wished to save goldmetal. Regardless of their intention, these alloys (even if they only represent a small part of the thus far discovered gold objects from Varna) indicate a technological link between copper and gold metallurgy” (cf. Verena Leusch, 2015).

Different ring idols. The reddish one (centre, bottom line) is made out of a gold–copper alloy. (Photograph: B. Armbruster.)

Rings made of thin gold wire and 4 gold pendants dating back to 4 millennium BC. were found near the village of Hotnica, Veliko Turnovo District, in North-Central Bulgaria.

Photograph: K. Dimitrov.

A gold amulet made from hammered sheet dating back to the late Neolithic period was found in Greece. It is considered to depict a schematic human figure, possibly female, as indicated by two relief points in the upper part of the ring.

The National Archaeological Museum, Greece

These gold amulets are important not only because they are made of precious metal and testify the developed aestetic, religious views of the ancient society and its social stratification, but also it traces the cultural interaction between Asia Minor and south-eastern Europe.

Golden pendants. Cycladic Art Museum

Gold pendant. The National Archaeological Museum, Greece

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Andrew Curry. Mystery of the Varna Gold: What Caused These Ancient Societies to Disappear?https://www.smithsonianmag.com/
  2. Verena Leusch, Barbara Armbruster, Ernst Pernicka and Vladimir Slavčev. On the Invention of Gold Metallurgy: The Gold Objects from the Varna I Cemetery (Bulgaria)—Technological Consequence and Inventive Creativity. Cambridge Archaeological Journal / Volume 25 / Issue 01 / February 2015, pp 353 – 376
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2 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    Very good read and fascinating history, thank you

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