Where Did The Gold From The Time Of Stonehenge Come From? Analysing The Bush Barrow Dagger

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Glittering with dazzling detail, its secrets have remained untold for thousands of years. But now the full story of this once exquisitely beautiful jewelled dagger – buried near Stonehenge two millennia before Christ – may at last be revealed.



The Bush Barrow Chieftain was buried close to Stonehenge at a time when the monument
was being changed and adapted after the sarsen trilithons had been erected. Carvings
on the sarsens show a dagger similar to the one found at Bush Barrow
[Credit: University of Birmingham/David Bukach]


The Bronze Age artefact, called the Bush Barrow dagger after the site where it was found, was discovered in the burial mound of a chieftain 200 years ago.

A watercolour painted shortly after the discovery of the dagger in 1808 showed the handle in its golden glory. However, the handle began to disintegrate within hours of being dug up and exposed to the air, with just the golden shards remaining.
Archaeologists have long puzzled over the intricate handiwork of the handle, which was inlaid with more than 140,000 studs of gold, individually barely visible to the naked eye, each a millimetre long and no more than a third of a millimetre in diameter.

The studs were glued into pre-drilled holes with tree resin and formed into zigzag patterns at an incredible density of 1,000 studs to a square centimetre.

Experts believe only children aged no more than ten would have been capable of such delicate handicraft. Straining to see such tiny details may have extracted a heavy price, leaving their eyesight ruined. Until now, the source of the gold has been unknown. But scientist Dr Christopher Standish, of Southampton University, is carrying out tests to find out the exact origin.



The blade is made of bronze but the wooden pommel is one of the most remarkable Bronze Age
finds in Britain, decorated with microscopic gold studs set in a zig-zag pattern
[Credit: University of Birmingham/David Bukach]


One stud will be bombarded with X-rays to analyse the minute quantity of lead impurities mixed with the gold to reveal a telltale signature specific to one location. It is possible the gold came from Cornwall, Wales, Ireland or Brittany.

The dagger blade and remains of the handle are on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, near Stonehenge. Museum director David Dawson said: "Our spectacular gold-studded dagger is one of the most remarkable prehistoric artefacts in the world but we have no real idea who made it, or where. There are other daggers with gold handles from the same period. Six were found in Britain and 22 in Brittany. The other British ones were pretty rubbish, while the ones from Brittany were pretty good but none of them is anything like our Bush Barrow dagger. It is likely to have come from France."
Mr Dawson believes only someone with very severe myopia would have been able to do such intricate close-up work. He said: "There would have been Bronze Age metal workers who were left myopic for their adult life. They would have been able to see only a few inches. They would have been unable to do any other work apart from the making of tiny artefacts and would have had to be supported by the community."

The handle is estimated to have taken at least 2,500 hours to complete in six stages. First the gold would have to be rolled into wire as thin as a human hair. One end would be flattened to form the circular head of the stud and the wire would be cut with a fine flint blade. A tiny bronze awl would have been used to drill holes in the wooden handle, which would then have been coated with sticky resin. Only then would the studs have been placed with tiny bone tweezers.

The result of the tests will be revealed in November.

Author: Simon De Bruxelles | Source: Daily Mail Online [June 23, 2019]
 
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