Treasure of Villena Reveals Traces of Extraterrestrial Iron!
A dazzling Bronze Age hoard, discovered 60 years ago in Spain, referred to as the Treasure of Villena, and dating back to the period between 2200 and 750 BC, has now been found to possess ‘extra-terrestrial’ metal! The inclusion of two iron artifacts within the treasure, namely a small hollow semi-sphere adorned with a golden sheet, speculated to be a pommel for a sword hilt, and an open bracelet, mark the first instances of materials originating from beyond Earth being utilized in the Iberian Peninsula.
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The Treasure of Villena: A Remarkable Treasure Trove
Discovered by archaeologists in 1963, the treasure comprises a grand total of 59 intricately crafted items, including 27 bracelets, 11 bowls, and other exquisite pieces of jewelry. These treasures are fashioned from a variety of precious materials such as gold, silver, amber, and iron. The treasure is the subject of a new study published in Trabajas de Prehistoria.
The study has been conducted by researchers Salvador Rovira-Llorens, Martina Renzi, and Ignacio Montero-Ruiz, affiliated with the National Archaeological Museum, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Saudi Arabia, and the Institute of History at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
The Treasure of Villena stands as a remarkable discovery in the realm of Bronze Age artifacts, unearthed in 1963 by archaeologist José María Soler García. The find occurred when laborers stumbled upon various scattered pieces in a gravel pit located in Villena, eastern Spain, and sparking significant scholarly discourse.
Due to its lack of association with any nearby archaeological sites, except for the Cabezo Redondo hoard, a collection of 35 objects also discovered in Villena in 1963, which featured some similar golden pieces, the hoard attracted a lot of attention, reports El Pais.
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The pieces of the hoard were crafted in the Late Bronze Age. (Santiago Lopez-Pastor/CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED)
To safeguard its immense value, the Treasure of Villena is securely housed within an armored display case at the town's archaeological museum. Experts have long debated whether it originated from the post-Argaric period (1,500-1,300 BC) or the latter stages of the Late Bronze Age (8th century BC).
Through metal analysis, the researchers have learnt that certain pieces were fashioned in the Late Bronze Age (1,400-1,200 BC), utilizing iron sourced from a meteorite! Specifically, they come from the Mundrabilla meteorite that crashed on Earth around a million years ago.
Researchers focused their analysis on two iron artifacts: a C-shaped bracelet and the hollow sphere topped with the golden sheet.
The Treasure of Villena consists of 59 artifacts in gold, silver and amber, dating back to 2200-750 BC. (Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Extraterrestrial Meteorite Iron
“Meteorite iron is found in certain types of aerolites that, since they come from outer space, are composed of an iron-nickel alloy with a variable nickel composition greater than 5% by weight. They also contain other minor and trace chemical elements, cobalt being one of the most significant. However, the levels of nickel in terrestrial iron are generally low or very low and frequently not detectable in analysis,” the study explains.
The pommel features elaborate decorations consisting of three bands intersected by four parallel strips, resulting in four distinct sectors forming a four-pointed star. As for the bracelet, it is described as an open ring with rounded, somewhat flattened ends, crafted from a dark, lustrous metal. Its surface exhibits a mix of shine and a ferrous oxide patina, giving it a distinct appearance characterized by cracked oxidation.
Bracelets among the pieces belonging to the Treasure of Villena. (Santiago Lopez-Pastor/CC BY-ND 2.0)
"The connection between gold and iron is important, as both elements have a great symbolic and social value," study senior author Ignacio Montero Ruiz, a researcher at Spain's Institute of History, told Live Science over email. "In this case, [the artifacts] were … probably hidden treasure that could have belonged to a whole community and not to a single person. There were no kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula at this historical period."
Samples were sent to the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre of Archaeometry gGmbH, where mass spectrometry was utilized - a sophisticated analytical technique capable of measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules, researchers detected traces of iron-nickel alloy within the artifacts. These traces closely resembled the composition of meteoric iron, as outlined in the study.
“The available data suggest that the cap and bracelet are the first two pieces attributable to meteoritic iron in the Iberian Peninsula, which is compatible with a chronology from the Late Bronze Age prior to the start of widespread terrestrial iron production,” concluded the study authors.
Top image: Replicas of the Treasure of Villena. Source: Public Domain
By Sahir Pandey
Milligan, M. 2024. Traces of meteoric iron in the Villena Treasure. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2024/01/traces-of-meteoric-iron-in-the-villena-treasure/150356.
Nalewicki, J. 2024. Bronze Age 'treasure' was crafted with extraterrestrial metal. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/archaeology/bronze-age-treasure-was-crafted-with-extraterrestrial-metal.
Olaya, V.G. 2024. The 3,000-year-old Treasure of Villena contains two pieces made with iron from ‘beyond planet Earth’. Available at: https://english.elpais.com/culture/2024-02-05/the-3000-year-old-treasure-of-villena-contains-two-pieces-made-with-iron-from-beyond-planet-earth.html.