Origins of Gold Spill the Secret of a Lost Culture. Does the Treasure of El Carambolo Lead to Atlantis?
A golden hoard discovered in Andalusia in the 1950s set off a firestorm of speculation and debate: to whom did the lavish treasure belong? Where had it come from? And could it represent a piece in the puzzle in the theory of Atlantis? Now, chemical analysis has revealed the origins of the gold, providing some answers in the ancient enigma, yet raising even more questions in the process.
The Treasure of El Carambolo, 21 heavy pieces of goldwork, was discovered by construction workers in El Carambolo hill in Camas (Province of Seville, Andalusia, Spain) in September 1958. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science , the gold was locally sourced, and wasn’t imported by Phoenicians, as previously suspected.
Gold from the treasure of El Carambolo. (© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Director of the Archaeological Museum of Seville , and one of the authors of the study, Ana Navarro told National Geographic , “Some people think that the Carambolo Treasure comes from the East, from the Phoenicians. With this work, we know that the gold was taken from mines in Spain.”
A Culture Disappears
The discovery 2700-year-old treasure, including 21 pieces of elaborate goldwork packed into a ceramic vessel, awakened interest of Tartessos. National Geographic reports that Tartessos was “a civilization that thrived in southern Spain between the ninth and sixth centuries BC. Ancient sources described the Tartessians as a wealthy, advanced culture, ruled by a king. That wealth, and the fact that the Tartessians seemingly 'disappear' from history about 2,500 years ago, has led to theories equating Tartessos with the mythical site of Atlantis.”
The Tartessian Fonte Velha inscription found in in Bensafrim, Lagos, Southern Portugal. ( Public Domain )
Tartessians supposedly developed a unique language and writing system differing from their neighbors, and it’s believed they received cultural influences of Egyptians and Phoenicians only in their final phase.
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Archaeologist Sebastian Celestino , studying the ancient site in 2010, told the newspaper El Pais , “There were earthquakes and one of them caused a tsunami that razed everything and which coincided with the era in which Tartessian power was at its height.”
The golden hoard find in the ‘50s led to further excavations, and archaeologists uncovered two distinct settlements at El Carambolo; one reflecting indigenous culture dating to the ninth to mid-eighth century BC, and another, later one, dating to the mid-eighth century; a trading hub established around the time relations with the Phoenicians began. Digs at the newer site revealed a Phoenician-inspired temple, and a statue of the Phoenician goddess Astarte.
Tartessos cultural area. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
50th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Treasure of El Carambolo (Spanish language)
Gold in the Hills
National Geographic writes that the researchers “used chemical and isotopic analysis to examine tiny gold fragments that had broken off from one of the pieces of jewelry. The analysis revealed that the material likely came from the same mines associated with monumental underground tombs at Valencina de la Concepcion, which date to the third millennium BC and are also located near Seville. The authors of the paper assert that the jewelry of the Carambolo Treasure marks the end of a continuous gold-processing tradition that began some 2,000 years earlier with Valencina de la Concepcion.”
Gold processing was done in Valencina de la Concepción. (Cazalla Montijano, Juan Carlos/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Gold pieces from the treasure hoard. (© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
A Treasure of Both Worlds
The question of who created the treasure was an enigma. While researchers have determined that the gold was locally sourced, it was manufactured in the Phoenician style and with their techniques. Therefore, the treasure is born of both worlds: Spanish gold and Phoenician make.
“A Phoenician boy marries a local girl—this is, to put it, very simple,” Alicia Perea tells National Geographic. Perea is an archaeologist specializing in gold technology, with the Spanish National Research Council’s Center for Human and Social Sciences.
The Carambolo sites were destroyed and abandoned after what may have a catastrophe of epic proportions. The treasures found there have been dated to the eighth century BC, but it’s felt the hoard was buried in the sixth century BC, left behind by a people fleeing an unknown danger.
Necklace with pendants from the hoard. ( Public Domain )
The treasure includes 21 pieces of embellished gold: a necklace, two bracelets, two ox-hide-shaped ornamental breastplates, and 16 plaques that may have together made a necklace or diadem.
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Evidence of Atlantis?
The site’s potential watery demise furthers theories that its fate is connected to the Atlantis story.
Cuban archeologist Georgeos Diaz-Montexano has spent decades searching for the famously mysterious Atlantis told The Telegraph, “Evidence is mounting that suggests the story of Atlantis was not mere fiction, fable or myth, but a true story as Plato always maintained.”
However, researchers involved in the recent study and the sites do not hold with such theories, calling it “complete madness.”
Top Image: Treasure of El Carambolo, exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Seville. (José Antonio Montero Fernández/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )
By Liz Leafloor