A recent study published in the journal Prehistory Works indicates that two items within the renowned Villena Treasure were crafted using meteoric iron.
The study, titled “Meteoritic Iron in the Villena Treasure?”, was conducted by researchers from the National Archaeological Museum, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (Saudi Arabia), and the CSIC Institute of History.
The Villena Treasure, discovered in 1963 by archaeologist José María Soler in Villena, Spain, stands as one of the most significant Bronze Age hoards in the Iberian Peninsula. The collection includes intricately crafted bowls, bottles, and bracelets made from gold, silver, iron, and amber. The enigma surrounding its lack of connection to nearby archaeological sites has fueled scientific debates for decades.
The study focused on two specific items from the treasure: an iron bracelet and a small hollow semisphere, believed to be the upper part of a scepter or staff, adorned with an openwork sheet of gold. Through a meticulous analysis, researchers identified traces of iron and nickel in both pieces, with distinct peaks of Fe(Kÿ and Kÿ) and Ni(Kÿ and Kÿ). Subsequent mass spectrometry studies conducted at the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre of Archaeometry gGmbH suggested that the cap of the semisphere was likely crafted from meteoric iron, drawing a comparative reference to the global composition of the Mundrabilla meteorite, which fell to Earth less than a million years ago.
“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,” states the study authors.
This revelation challenges the conventional understanding of metalworking during the Bronze Age, where meteoric iron, distinguished by its iron-nickel alloy composition with a nickel content greater than 5% by weight, was the sole source of iron before the advent of iron smelting.
The Treasure of Villena, consisting of 59 objects, including 27 bracelets and 11 bowls, has long puzzled experts. The recent study not only identifies the extraterrestrial origin of the iron components but also places the ensemble firmly in the Late Bronze Age, between 1400 and 1200 BCE.
Salvador Rovira-Llorens, Martina Renzi, and Ignacio Montero-Ruiz, researchers from the National Archaeological Museum, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and the Institute of History of CSIC, respectively, contributed to the study. According to them, “It was made in the Late Bronze Age and with iron from a meteorite.”
The Treasure of Villena, kept in a secure showcase at the local archaeological museum, remains a testament to the advanced metalworking skills of ancient Iberian civilizations. The analysis has raised questions about the skilled artisans who crafted these objects and the source of the meteorite material.