Chemical Analysis Ends Debate On The Origins Of Legendary 2,700-Year-Old Gold Treasure

This gold pendant necklace is part of the legendary Carambolo Treasure of Spain. De Agostini/Getty Images

In 1958, a construction worker in the Spanish city of Seville saw a hint of gold glistening in the broken ground. These discoveries came to be known as the Treasure of El Carambolo, an extravagant collection of 21 impressive pieces of gold jewelry and ornaments with a mysterious backstory dating back 2,700 years.

Archaeologists flocked to the scene and have been studying the treasure ever since, yet the origins of the ornaments remained unclear for the next 60 years. Were they crafted in the nearby wealthy, semi-mythical harbor city of Tartessos, whose legendary culture ruled the area from the 9th to the 6th century BCE before mysteriously disappearing, or by the first great western civilization, the Phoenicians of the Eastern Mediterranean? Some have even gone as far to suggest the artifacts could be a treasure from the lost island of Atlantis, mainly due to crackpot theories linking Tartessos to the mythical city.

Now, chemical and isotopic analysis of the gold has weighed in on their origins. It turns out, the gold is not from Atlantis – sorry to disappoint. As per the new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the analysis revealed that the gold was most likely collected in the Ossa-Morena zone of southern Spain. The material also shows some glaring geochemical similarities with gold found around the nearby ancient town of Valencina de la Concepción, once again hinting that the gold was locally sourced in current-day Spain.

“Some people think that the Carambolo Treasure comes from the East, from the Phoenicians,” study author Ana Navarro, the director of the Archaeological Museum of Seville, told National Geographic. “With this work, we now know that the gold was taken from mines in Spain.”

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The treasure is made up of 21 ornamental designed objects, including 16 rectangular plaques that each weigh over 2 kilograms (5 pounds), a pair of heavy, highly decorated bracelets, and a pendant necklace. Most of the objects have been dated back to around the 8th century BCE, except for the necklace which dates to the 6th century BCE, which is when archaeologist think the treasure was deliberately buried.

While the Tartessos people certainly lived nearer to the site of discovery, the style is very much of the Phoenicians’ ornaments. The researchers believe that this Phoenician-infused style accounts for the mixing of cultures, a blending of local people of the Iberian Peninsula and Eastern Mediterranean. After all, the Phoenicians notoriously centered themselves around the Mediterranean ports and build their empire through shipping trade ports across modern-day Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Sardinia, Malta, Sicily, Turkey, and North Africa.

This incredibly stunning set of jewelry appears to be, in no small part, thanks to this ancient blending of cultures, idea, and materials.

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