Scientists are redrawing lines of ancient trade routes after discovering that 4,500-year-old gold in treasures found in both Troy and modern-day Iraq were mined in the same place.
A new study has shown that gold objects unearthed at the ancient Greek city of Troy and some 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) away in Ur in Mesopotamia had the same source.
Scientists say the gold hoard of jewellery from Troy is a match for gold used to line royal tombs in Ur, which has no local gold deposits.
Newsflash obtained a joint statement from the University of Tuebingen and the Austrian Academy of Sciences on Wednesday, 30th November, saying: “Gold in objects from Troy, Poliochni – a settlement on the island of Lemnos which lies roughly 60 kilometres [37.2 miles] from Troy – and Ur in Mesopotamia has the same geographic origin and was traded over great distances.”
They added: “Researchers from Tuebingen, Mannheim and the Austrian Academy of Sciences were able to examine the famous pieces of jewellery for the first time using a new laser method.
“In doing so, they proved that trade relations in the early Bronze Age reached as far as the Indus Valley.”
The international team of experts, made up of Ernst Pernicka, from the University of Tuebingen and the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre of Archaeometry in Mannheim, and Barbara Horejs, of the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, were analysing “Priam’s Treasure” using the new technique.
Priam’s Treasure is a hoard of gold and other artefacts that were discovered by classical archaeologists Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann at Hissarlik, on the northwestern coast of what is now Turkey, in 1873.
But “the mystery of the origin of the gold has remained unsolved” – until now.
The majority of the artefacts are currently in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, so the team worked on some of the gold items that are housed in Athens, Greece.
The team have now shown that the gold “came from so-called secondary deposits such as rivers and that its chemical composition is” identical to that gold objects from the settlement of Poliochni and to items found in the royal tombs of Ur in what was Mesopotamia.
They also determined that the gold was a match for objects from Georgia.
Pernicka said: “So there must have been trade relations between these distant regions.”
The statement also said: “The study was made possible by a newly developed handheld laser that enabled samples to be taken from jewellery in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
“The museum’s necklaces, pendants, earrings and chokers are so precious that they may not be transported to a laboratory or examined in any way that would leave visible damage to the objects.
“The methods available so far have failed because of at least one of these obstacles. The handheld laser, on the other hand, melts a hole so small in the pieces that the naked eye cannot see it for on-site sampling at the museum.
“Pernicka and his team were then able to use mass spectrometry to examine the composition of the samples.”
Other elements in the artefacts also helped to determine the location of origin, with the statement saying: “In addition to gold, historical gold jewellery always contains other elements such as silver, copper, tin, palladium and platinum.
“Depending on the alloy, scientists can create a clear chemical profile of the finds and draw conclusions from them.
The high concentrations of tin, palladium and platinum in Troy jewellery are a clear indication that the gold used for them was washed from a river in the form of gold dust.
“The researchers were also able to prove that workshops produced jewellery in series and not just as individual pieces. For example, there is no other explanation for the identical proportion of platinum and palladium in the gold flakes of necklaces of the same design that were found in different places.”
The researchers examined 61 artefacts, all dating back to the early Bronze Age, from between 2500 BC to 2000 BC.
The origin of the gold from the royal tombs of Ur had left academics scratching their heads for decades because there are no natural gold deposits in Mesopotamia.
Pernicka said: “But there are other regions that can be considered, in which there is evidence of lively trade relations with Ur.”
The statement said: “In the early Bronze Age, strikingly similar objects were used in a large geographical area from the Aegean to the Indus Valley in present-day Pakistan, as archaeological comparative studies show.”
Horejs said: “The new archaeometric data give us a solid and global framework for our models of societies, their networks and the importance of resources around 4,500 years ago.”
But the experts have yet to precisely pinpoint the exact origin of the Trojan gold, with Pernicka saying: “If we look at the proportion of trace elements in the gold from Troia, Poliochni and Ur, then Bronze Age gold from Georgia shows the greatest correspondence with the named sites. However, we still lack data and studies from other regions and from other objects to substantiate this assumption.”
The findings are being published in the January 2023 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science under the title ‘Portable laser ablation sheds light on Early Bronze Age gold treasures in the old world: New insights from Troy, Poliochni, and related finds’.
The study was authored by Moritz Numrich, Christoph Schwall, Nicole Lockhoff, Kostas Nikolentzos, Eleni Konstantinidi-Syvridi, Massimo Cultraro, Barbara Horejs, and Ernst Pernicka.