HomeScience & TechAncient Meteoric Iron Artifacts Discovered in Spain's Treasure of Villena

Ancient Meteoric Iron Artifacts Discovered in Spain’s Treasure of Villena

Amidst a cache of glittering golden treasures from the Iberian Bronze Age, two seemingly insignificant corroded objects might be the most precious of all. A dull bracelet and a rusted hollow hemisphere, both adorned with gold, have been found to be crafted not from earthly metal but from meteoritic iron.

This remarkable discovery, led by Salvador Rovira-Llorens, the now-retired head of conservation at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, was detailed in a paper published in January. It suggests that metalworking technology and techniques in Iberia were far more advanced than previously believed, dating back over 3,000 years.

villena hemisphere

The Treasure of Villena, comprising 66 mostly gold objects, was unearthed in 1963 in Alicante, Spain. It is one of the most significant examples of Bronze Age goldsmithing in the Iberian Peninsula and across Europe.

The iron-and-gold hemisphere, measuring 4.5 centimeters in diameter, and a single torc-like bracelet have puzzled archaeologists due to their “ferrous” appearance, indicating they are made of iron. The challenge lies in their dating: the gold artifacts have been dated between 1500 and 1200 BCE, but the Iron Age in the Iberian Peninsula, when smelted terrestrial iron began to replace bronze, did not start until around 850 BCE.

Meteoric Iron as a Source

Meteoric iron, known for its high nickel content, has been used in various pre-Iron Age artifacts globally, including Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s famous meteoritic iron dagger. To confirm the origin of the Villena artifacts, researchers tested the two objects for nickel content using mass spectrometry.

Research Findings

Despite significant corrosion, which alters the elemental composition, the results strongly suggest that both the hemisphere and the bracelet were made from meteoritic iron. This places the artifacts in the same period as the rest of the Treasure of Villena, around 1400 to 1200 BCE.

“The available data suggest that the cap and bracelet from the Treasure of Villena would currently be the first two pieces attributable to meteoritic iron in the Iberian Peninsula,” the researchers explained in their paper, “which is compatible with a Late Bronze chronology, prior to the beginning of the widespread production of terrestrial iron.”

Future Investigations

Although the findings are not conclusive due to the high degree of corrosion, the researchers propose using more recent, non-invasive techniques to gather a more detailed set of data. This could help confirm their groundbreaking discovery and provide deeper insights into ancient metalworking practices. The study was published in Trabajos de Prehistoria.

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