Monday, January 7, 2013

The Eberswalde Hoard

Replicas of objects discovered in the Eberswalde Hoard from Berlin's
Museum fur Vor- und Fruhgeschichte.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
One hundred years ago...

On May 16, 1913, workers were digging a foundation for a new house on the property of a brass factory in Eberswalde, Germany, near Berlin.  Three feet underground, one of them struck a buried earthenware vessel.  The workers dug it out, not having any idea of what they had discovered.  It turned out to be one of the great archaeological discoveries of the century.

When the workers opened it, they discovered five and a half pounds of beautifully designed gold objects.  Stored within eight elaborately ornamented gold bowls, they found 73 smaller gold objects including neck rings, arm spirals, and bracelets.

Intermittent research over the past century has pegged the Eberswalde Hoard as probably dating to the 9th or 10th century BC, a time known by archaeologists as the Late European Bronze Age.  They come from roughly the same time as when Homer was composing his epics and Solomon was reigning as king of Israel.  You don’t hear much about European culture during this period.  The Eberswalde Hoard offers a tantalizing glimpse into the high levels of craftsmanship achieved in some Bronze Age European communities, over a thousand years before the Romans began calling the northern Europeans “barbarians.”

The rest of the story of the Eberswalde Hoard is singularly discouraging, a litany of nearly everything that went wrong in the 20th century.  It was initially interpreted by many German scholars as evidence of German racial superiority.  The items survived the fall of Berlin in World War II, only to have Soviet troops quietly remove the Eberswalde Hoard from its museum storage and carry it back as war loot to Russia.  For the following six decades, this great archaeological resource was lost to science.

In 2004, Der Spiegel revealed that the Eberswalde Hoard was in storage at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.  Despite attempts by German cultural authorities to reclaim their treasure, the Eberswalde Hoard remains in the collection of the Pushkin Museum.  Fortunately, now that its existence has finally been acknowledged, the museum has increased accessibility to scholars and to the public through exhibitions.

© 2013 Lee Price

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