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Golden sun bowl from 3,000 years ago sheds light on mysterious prehistoric ‘Urnfield’ culture

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Polish archaeologists in Austria have uncovered a Bronze Age bowl made of near-solid gold and carved with images representing the sun’s rays.   

The vessel, unearthed in Ebreichsdorf, about 20 miles from Vienna, has been dated to approximately 3,000 years ago. 

Inside the bowl was coiled golden wire bracelets and the remains of fabric that researchers believe was once decorated scarves used during a sun-worshipping ceremony.

The discovery was made in an ancient settlement dating from between 1300-1000 B.C. and belonging to people of the ‘Urnfield culture,’ known mostly for their cremation rites. 

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A golden bowl unearthed in Austria has been dated to approximately 3,000 years ago, when the enigmatic Urnfield culture dominated Central Europe. It is decorated with a detailed motif representing the rays of the sun

A golden bowl unearthed in Austria has been dated to approximately 3,000 years ago, when the enigmatic Urnfield culture dominated Central Europe. It is decorated with a detailed motif representing the rays of the sun

Hammered very thin, the bowl is about two inches high and eight inches in diameter.

It consists of approximately 90 percent gold, 5 percent silver, and 5 percent copper, according to a translated statement from Poland’s Ministry of Education and Science.   

Found near the site of a wall of a prehistoric house, it is carved with a motif depicting the celestial orb’s life-giving rays.

The organic material clumps found inside were actually long-decayed material, ‘possibly fabric or leather,’ archaeologist Michał Sip with the Polish Academy of Science, part of the team that made the discovery, said in the release.   

Archaeologists say the bowl is approximately 90 percent gold, 5 percent silver, and 5 percent copper

Archaeologists say the bowl is approximately 90 percent gold, 5 percent silver, and 5 percent copper

The material was then sewn with gold thread and wrapped with gold wire, he added.

The bowl was found in 2020 but researchers waited to announce its discovery until after detailed analysis was complete.

The Urnfield culture is a collection of smaller societies who emerged in Central Europe in about 1300 B.C.

Little is known of them beyond their custom of cremating their dead and placing the ashes in urns buried in fields.

Inside the vessel archaeologists found golden wire bracelets

Inside the vessel archaeologists found golden wire bracelets

In the Ebreichsdorf settlement, archaeologists also found evidence of so-called ‘pole buildings, made of numerous posts and clay used to fill in the spaces.

One larger square-ish building, about 33 feet by 36 feet, was likely a temple, meetinghouse, or the home of a leader, Sip said.

Archaeologists also found organic material clumps they believe are long-decayed material, 'possibly fabric or leather,' wrapped in thin gold wire

Archaeologists also found organic material clumps they believe are long-decayed material, ‘possibly fabric or leather,’ wrapped in thin gold wire

Archaeologist Micha¿ Sip with the Polish Academy of Science examines the bowl. The discovery was made in 2020 but researchers waited to announce it until their analysis was complete

Archaeologist Michał Sip with the Polish Academy of Science examines the bowl. The discovery was made in 2020 but researchers waited to announce it until their analysis was complete

Archaeological evidence suggests the community was non-nomadic and engaged in agriculture, he added, especially breeding sheep.

The dig was sponsored in part by Novetus, a Vienna-based engineering firm and was conducted in advance of a new railway line being added.

‘This is the discovery of a lifetime for me,’ Sip said in the statement. ‘I couldn’t find anything similar.’

He called it one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Austria in decades.

Just a few dozen bowls of this kind have ever been found—only one east of the Alps and none in Austria.

Sip's team previously discovered ceramic clay vessels (pictured) and hundreds of bronze objects, including daggers and knives, at the site of the settlement near Ebreichsdorf

Sip’s team previously discovered ceramic clay vessels (pictured) and hundreds of bronze objects, including daggers and knives, at the site of the settlement near Ebreichsdorf

But Sip’s team, which began excavation in the settlement two years ago, has uncovered nearly 500 bronze objects, from daggers and knives to pins, as well as ceramic clay vessels, shells, and animal bones.

Analysis of the ground suggests it was once a swamp: Sip theorizes that rather than being lost or discarded as trash, the items were intentionally thrown in the water during religious rituals.

The sun bowl will be placed on display in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, with the excavation of the settlement to continue into 2022.

It’s believed the people of the Urnfield culture were intensely warlike—their settlements were usually fortified, and many weathered bronze weapons have been found.

While evidence of Urnfield culture stops after around 750 B.C., its pottery and metallurgy ‘seemingly had great influence on the later culture of the Early Iron Age,’ according to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

A man foraging for mushrooms in a rural part of the Czech Republic uncovered a bronze sword dating to 1300 BC, when the Urnfield culture was just developing in Central Europe

A man foraging for mushrooms in a rural part of the Czech Republic uncovered a bronze sword dating to 1300 BC, when the Urnfield culture was just developing in Central Europe

Last fall, a mushroom hunter outside Prague literally tripped over the hilt of sword dating back 3,300 years, when the Urnfield culture was just emerging.

Digging some more in the same spot, he also uncovered a bronze axe from the same era nearby.

‘It had just rained and I went mushroom-picking,’ Roman Novák of Northern Moravia told Radio Prague International

‘As I went, I saw a piece of metal sticking out of some stones. I kicked it and found that it was a blade, part of a sword.’



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