3,500 Year Old Metallic Hand Leaves Deep Fingerprint In Swiss Criminal Investigation
Last October, a 3,500 year old bronze hand with a golden cuff was discovered by two metal detectorists near Lake Biel in the Bernese Jura, about 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Bern, Switzerland. Now, a criminal complaint has been filed against the finders as they are suspected of having “grave robbed” the site.
Never before seen object
Archaeologists have never seen anything quite like this metallic hand and are currently “at a loss” to explain its original function or purpose, according to a Canton de Bern press release. However, as scientists test the artifact, one of the “treasure hunters” who made the initial discovery told Swiss Television Chanel SRF that he “had been quizzed by police and that his house had been searched.” Police were trying to determine whether any other artifacts were unlawfully taken from the site where the hand was found, but the man involved “denies violating Swiss laws on the preservation of monuments.” A spokesperson for the Canton Archaeological Service of Bern confirmed to Gizmodo that “a criminal investigation is currently underway in this matter."
The hand was found with an assemblage of items and a human rib. © Philippe Joner, Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern.
With the metal hand, the treasure hunters also discovered “a bronze dagger and a human rib bone,” which were among the artifacts they handed over to specialists at the Ancient History and Roman Archaeology Department in the Bern Archaeological Service, the day after they were discovered.
‘The hand of Prêles’, as it is now known in historic circles, was cast from about a pound of bronze, according to National Geographic, and is the size of a young teenagers hand.
Unlikely to be a prosthetic
The archaeologists who examined the hand discovered that the gold wrist band had been attached to the bronze hand with “organic, vegetable-based glue” which they were able to radiocarbon date to Europe’s Middle Bronze Age between 1,400 and 1,500 BC. Archaeologist Andrea Schae who led the study into the hand told reporters that it was “doubtful the hand was worn; a socket inside the hand suggests it was mounted on a staff of some kind,” perhaps a scepter or a statue.
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Crime scene investigation
Suspicions were raised, according to the researchers press release, when “Schae’s team returned to the site and found a grave, possibly a tomb, “that had suffered significant damage.” A SwissInfo article reports the researchers knew something was wrong when they returned to the site “and found even more items including the bones of a middle-aged male, a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral likely worn as a hair ornament, more bits of gold foil (likely from the hand), and one of the sculpture’s missing fingers.”
Beneath the grave, in which the hand was discovered, the researchers uncovered “a stone-based structure” and their release states “the man and the bronze hand were deliberately buried over this older construction.” They added, “He must have been a high-ranking character” because this is “an exceptional Swiss Bronze Age burial, one with no precedent.”
La construction en pierres plus ancienne qui se trouvait sous la tombe. © Service archéologique du canton de Berne, Guy Jaquenod.
First Model Hand is a Unique Find
The archaeologists really do hold this hand as a unique discovery and told reporters that, “To the knowledge of Swiss, German and French specialists, there has never been a comparable sculpture dating from the Bronze Age in Central Europe.” The hand of Prêles is now the “oldest bronze piece representing a part of the human body; a unique and remarkable object,” say the researchers.
The research team are currently preparing a formal paper which will be published later this year and they are still actively trying to work out if these artifacts were manufactured locally to where they were discovered, or imported from a distant culture. So far as the hand’s original purpose goes, “We do not know either the meaning or the function attributed to it,” the authors said in their press release, and they continued “Its gold ornament suggests that it is an emblem of power, a distinctive sign of the social elite, even of a deity.
Top image: Bronze hand with a gold rim found near Lake Biel, Switzerland. Source: © Philippe Joner, Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern.
By Ashley Cowie