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Ancient Metallurgy


Thanks, Don, for the reference to the Bulgarian gold knife
discovery. Often the original interpretations of date and
significance of such artifacts turn out to be less exciting than
later evidence allows (I just read something from the New York Times
in which some Israeli archaeologists now propose that Qumran was not
the place where the Essenes lived but was a pottery factory).

The BBC article suggests:

The alloy used [gold-platinum] suggests sophisticated
metal-working skills. 

I think that it is more probable that a naturally-occurring alloy is
involved here. In Jack Ogden’s book, Jewellery of the Ancient World,
p. 31, he says the following:

“Platinum group metals… are commonly found as alloy grains in
alluvial gold deposits, hence the frequent traces of these metals in
ancient gold items.”

Further metallurgical analysis of the knife would help in deciding
this matter.

Judy Bjorkman


Judy…your point is very well taken. I have had similar
experiences with archaeologists on other matters…they sometimes
tend not to take their reseach to the end but make premature
conjecture. Being so aware, I should have been a bit more suspicious.

Of course, they may still have been correct…we will simply have
to wait and watch for further info. The article was still very
interesting don’t you think? In any event, the Thracians must have
been exellent goldsmiths. Thanks for your input.

Cheers, Don in SOFL.


I am first in line when it comes to admiring, and reveling in ancient
craft of all kinds, metals especially. So, not to rain on the parade,
but - reality check. I’m not a historian, so I can’t quote dates and
things, but the general thing I’m saying is true. The dagger could
not have been made with platinum intentionally, for the simple reason
that the ability to melt platinum came thousands of years later. They
simply did not have any source of heat that could do the job. The
commercial use of platinum roughly corresponds to the history of
refractory advances, most importantly pressurized gas and oxygen
especially. No “natural” source of heat - wood fire, coal fire, even
with bellows, can do it, it requires more refractory technology than
that. There is plenty of history of items made with natural gol/plat.
alloys, though - nothing new. None of this is meant to detract from
the craftsmanship of the piece, though, which is exquisite. Just

The article was still very interesting don't you think? In any
event, the Thracians must have been exellent goldsmiths. 

It would seem so, Don. Even more interesting are the gold artifacts
found in graves at Varna, Bulgaria, and dating to a little after
4500 BC (Google “Varna graves” for references and pictures). These
are among the earliest gold artifacts in the world, way earlier even
than those found in Mesopotamia and Egypt (so far).

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman