Turns out that gold objects were also valued during the Bronze Age

Archaeologists identified a 4000-year-old gold-working toolkit amongst the grave goods from a Bronze Age burial near Stonehenge. (Image by Momentum Dash, Flickr.)

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester and the University of Southampton have identified a 4000-year-old gold-working toolkit amongst the grave goods from an important Bronze Age burial near Stonehenge.

The toolkit was found at the Upton Lovell G2a Bronze Age burial, which was excavated in 1801 and is now on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. What the team did is re-examine the stone and copper-alloy grave goods found with the burial, revealing they are gold-working tools.

While carrying out a wear analysis of the grave goods, researcher Christina Tsoraki noticed what appeared to be gold residues on their surfaces. It also became clear that the stone tools had been used for a range of different purposes—some were used like hammers and anvils whereas others had been used to smooth other materials.

Microwear analysis showing gold traces on surface of goldworking tool.
Microwear analysis showing gold traces on surface of gold-working tool. (Image by the University of Southampton).

Tsoraki’s findings prompted the team to look at the residues using a Scanning Electron Microscope coupled to an Energy Dispersive Spectrometer to both confirm this identification, and investigate whether the residues were ancient or modern.

Their research, published in the journal Antiquity, confirmed that gold residues are present on five artifacts. They also found that these residues are characterized by an elemental signature consistent with Bronze Age goldwork found throughout the UK.

Previous research had identified possible gold traces on one of the stone grave goods. This new research has identified further four stone objects with gold on their surfaces and characteristic wear traces, linking a wider suite of items from the burial to the gold-working process. It also demonstrates that these gold traces are ancient. Thus, the team suggests the tools were used to make multi-material objects where a core object was crafted in a material like jet, shale, amber, wood or copper and decorated with a thin layer of gold sheet.

“Gold-working tools dating to the Early Bronze Age are extremely rare, so identifying a toolkit for creating composite gold objects is an extremely important discovery,” Chris Standish co-author of the study, said.

4 0