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Studies of Objects: manufacturing skills and alloy selection

In-situ examination and analysis of the gold jewellery from the Phoenician tomb of Kition (Cyprus)

Examen et analyse in situ d’orfèvrerie en or de la tombe phénicienne de Kition (Chypre)
Maria Filomena Guerra et Thilo Rehren
p. 151-158

Résumés

Parmi les objets d’orfèvrerie les plus impressionnants livrés par les fouilles archéologiques menées à Chypre, se trouvent ceux découverts en 1998 dans la tombe phénicienne de Kition. Bagues à sceau, boucles d’oreille, pendants de colliers, bracelets et une fibule à l’arc coudé richement décorée, mettent en évidence la virtuosité de l’orfèvre au viiie-viie siècle av. J.-C. Le but de ce travail est de décrire et illustrer les techniques employées par l’orfèvre et de déterminer la variété des alliages en or employés. L’étude analytique a été réalisée dans le cadre du projet européen AUTHENTICO, au Musée national d’archéologie de Nicosie, à l’aide d’une camera vidéo porTable équipée d’un zoom et d’un analyseur de fluorescence X porTable miniaturisé.

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1. Introduction

1The Phoenician tomb M^A 1742, with two chambers and a step dromos excavated near Larnaca in 1998 (Hadjisawas, 1999), delivered Phoenician pottery and jewellery of high quality and exceptional iconography described in a publication by Flourentzos and Vitobello in this issue of ArcheoSciences. Similar costume jewellery was found in other Phoenician sites of the Mediterranean (Carpenter, 1958).

2The aim of this work is to describe the different steps of production of some of the 25 gold items found in the tomb and to determine the base alloys used in the manufacture of their different parts. Very few analytical studies address Cypriot gold jewellery, and the number of gold objects generally found in the archaeological excavations from before the Late Cypriot period is small, most likely due to the absence of gold sources on the island (Maxwell-Hyslop, 1971).

3The jewellery finds in Cyprus are often stylistically connected to Syria-Palestine – ropes of twisted wire, rosettes, granulated triangles, etc. – and Minoan-Mycenae – granulations (Lilyquist, 1993), pins, pennanular and twisted earrings, etc. – gold work. The rich Late Cypriot II finds of Enkomi (Myres, 1914; Murray et al., 1970; Åström, 1972) demonstrate the existence of relations with Tell Ajjul and Meggido in Palestine, with Ras Shamra in Syria, with Troy in Greece, etc.

4From the 8th to the 7th century BC, the Mesopotamian influence on the various jewellery working centres of the Levant persists (Maxwell-Hyslop, 1960). The excavations of Amathus, Salamis and Kition in Cyprus show that rich Phoenician goods reached Cyprus during this period (Bikai, 1989).

Figure 1: Jewellery from the Kition tomb: (a) a lunate earring; (b) the elbow triangular fibula; (c) a signet finger ring.
Figure 1 : Orfèvrerie de la tombe de Kition : (a) une de boucles d’oreille en lune; (b) la fibule triangulaire coudée; (c) une des bagues à sceau.

Figure 1: Jewellery from the Kition tomb: (a) a lunate earring; (b) the elbow triangular fibula; (c) a signet finger ring.Figure 1 : Orfèvrerie de la tombe de Kition : (a) une de boucles d’oreille en lune; (b) la fibule triangulaire coudée; (c) une des bagues à sceau.

5The jewellery items from the Kition tomb that are most representative of the relation of Cyprus with other Mediterranean civilisations are the solid lunate earrings (Fig. 1a) and the elbow triangular fibula (Fig. 1b); see also the contribution by Flourentzos and Vitobello in this issue.

6The main focus of this paper is on the massive gold elbow triangular fibula of Kition, decorated with three rosettes in inlaid cloisonné and hanging down chains with lotus flower-shaped bells. The arrival of this type of fibula in the Mediterranean region is related to the expansion of Mycenaean trade, which brought new types of artefacts to Cyprus towards the end of the 13th century BC (Stronach, 1959): along these lines, we can refer to the chamber tomb with a dromos finds from Enkomi (Courtois, 1982), Kato Alonia/Kouklia (Karageorghis, 1963), Amathus (Karageorghis, 1988), Ayios Athanasios (Karageorghis, 1986) in Kourakou/Nicosia (Karageorghis, 1965), and Alassa-Kandou/Limassol (Karageorghis, 1988). Usually in bronze, triangular bow (or ‘knee’ or ‘elbow’) fibulae are very popular from the 8th century BC to the 1st century AD in Cyprus, Egypt and Persia, but also in France (Mohen et al., 1971), Portugal (Ponte, 1999), the Caucasian regions (Muscarella, 1965) and Spain (Chamorro, 1987).

7Table 1: Internal reference analyses by XRF.
Tableau 1 : Résultats des analyses de standards d’or par FX.

Table 1: Internal reference analyses by XRF.Tableau 1 : Résultats des analyses de standards d’or par FX.

8The fibula from Kition has inlaid cloisonné rosettes and flower bell-shaped pendants. The use of decorative rosettes dates back to the 3rd millennium BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt (Tait, 2006; Cline and O’Connor, 2006), and can also be seen in a pin from Troy (Schliemann, 1880). Those in inlaid cloisonné with red and blue glass paste can be seen in the 15th century BC Egyptian Queen Iahhotep’s collar (Collective, 2004) and in the Mycenaean finger ring from Vapheio (Collective, 1988). The use of chains and bells is common in Phoenician jewellery, and examples of it are represented by the earrings from Camyrus (Salzmann, 1863), Tharros (Acquaro, 1984) and Liomilya/Kouklia (Brunet and Moretti, 1990).

9Solid lunate earrings in gold, bronze and silver, characterized by a solid crescentic body from one end of which the pin for suspension rises, were found as early as the 3rd millennium BC at Ur and took various forms during the Iron Age (Hawkes, 1961). In this context, we are reminded of those from Ajjul (10th century BC), Nimrud (7th century BC) and Tell Fara (11th-10th century BC) (Curtis and Maxwell-Hyslop, 1971). In Cyprus, leech-shaped earrings – an elongated version of the tapered hoop (Higgins, 1980), but with elongated loop – were found in Kouklia (Catling, 1968), Mesayitonia – Limassol (Karageorghis, 1963b), and in Amathus (Karageorghis, 1979).

10Other finds from the tomb include a necklace with stone inlay and a bracelet with a scarab inlay, both with delicate loop-in-loop wirework; several beads or pendants made entirely from gold, some with fine filigree work, and several stone or faience beads with gold finials; and several metal signet rings with cartouche-shaped bezels containing faience, glass or stone inlays. A full presentation of the finds is in preparation (Flourentzos forthcoming).

2. Results

11For the study of the jewellery items from Kition, we used a high resolution Flexia video microscope with a zoom reaching x80, a built-in LED illumination and a Bersoft image measurement software. The analysis of the alloys was carried out with a handheld XRF spectrometer, Innov-X Systems Model Alpha 8000 LZX, with a silver tube, and operating at 40 kV, 29 µA, and employing a quantification method optimised for alloys.

12The XRF analyses were carried out with an acquisition time of 25 sec, resulting in lifetimes of 19-22 sec. Precision and accuracy were tested by repeated analyses of a range of both certified and internal reference materials with compositions comparable to the gold alloys studied (Table 1). Precision was found to be always better than 5% relative, and accuracy was typically better than 10% relative. The majority of the results reported are averages of 2-3 measurements, and they have been normalised to 100 wt%. In some instances, low concentrations of iron were found, but disregarded as potential surface contaminations.

Earrings

13The five solid gold lunate-shaped earrings with a bent over the hoop are cast close to shape. The hoop is hammered to form the crooked pin (Fig. 2), and the other end is finished by polishing. The compositions of the gold alloys used in the fabrication of these five items have silver contents ranging from about 11% to 21%, and copper contents from about 1% to just over 2% (see results on Table 2).

Figure 2: Both ends of earring 1742/24, with the hammer facets on the surface typical of hammering.
Figure 2 : Les deux terminaux de la boucle d’oreille 1742/24 avec les facettes typiques du martelage.

Figure 2: Both ends of earring 1742/24, with the hammer facets on the surface typical of hammering.Figure 2 : Les deux terminaux de la boucle d’oreille 1742/24 avec les facettes typiques du martelage.

14Thus, despite their stylistic and technical similarity, and internal consistency, they are made from a rather wide range of gold alloys. Interestingly, the silver to copper ratio is about 10 for all analyses. The variety of the Phoenician gold alloys was shown for the Gadir region by Ortega-Feliu et al. (2007).

Table 2: Results obtained by XRF for the lunate earrings, the elbow triangular fibula, and the signet finger-rings.
Tableau 2 : Résultats obtenus par FX pour les boucles d’oreille en lune, pour la fibule triangulaire coudée et pour les bagues à sceau.

Table 2: Results obtained by XRF for the lunate earrings, the elbow triangular fibula, and the signet finger-rings. Tableau 2 : Résultats obtenus par FX pour les boucles d’oreille en lune, pour la fibule triangulaire coudée et pour les bagues à sceau.

The fibula

15The massive gold elbow triangular-shaped fibula is decorated with rosettes in cloisonné, inlaid with red and blue glass paste. The plain triangular pin is approximately 2 mm in diameter and shaped by casting and hammering – one soldering point on the top (Fig. 3a) reinforces the item. It is decorated with engraved lines produced with a triangular burin. The cloisonné rosettes consist of a base gold foil, cut and polished on the borders, where strips around 400 µm thick and 1000 to 1200 µm in length, cut with a chisel, are hard-soldered. We note that this technique was found previously in Tartesic (Ontalba-Salamanca et al., 2001) and Phoenician (Ortega-Feliu et al., 2007) jewellery. The internal surfaces of the petals are scratched (Fig. 3b), potentially to improve the adherence of the glass paste, either directly, when applied as a hot semi-molten mass, or to provide more grip for any adhesive that might have been used if the inlays were applied cold. On the back-side of the gold foil, one wire covers the joining with the pin.

Figure 3: The fibula construction: (a) the two branches are hard-soldered; (b) cloisonné rosette – the internal surfaces of the petals are scratched; (c) lotus flower bells hoop; (d) the loop-in-loop chains.
Figure 3 : La construction de la fibule : (a) les deux branches soudées par brasure ; (b) la rosette en cloisonné – les surfaces internes sont grattées ; (c) les anneaux des cloches en forme de fleur de lotus ; (d) les chaînes de suspension.

Figure 3: The fibula construction: (a) the two branches are hard-soldered; (b) cloisonné rosette – the internal surfaces of the petals are scratched; (c) lotus flower bells hoop; (d) the loop-in-loop chains.Figure 3 : La construction de la fibule : (a) les deux branches soudées par brasure ; (b) la rosette en cloisonné – les surfaces internes sont grattées ; (c) les anneaux des cloches en forme de fleur de lotus ; (d) les chaînes de suspension.

16The loop-in-loop chains are obtained with strip-twisted wires of 450-500 µm in diameter (Fig. 3c), and the bells are made of rolling gold foils in repoussé adorned with wires of about 600 µm in diameter (Fig. 3d). The suspension rings are of about 700µm in diameter, and the round ring of which different pendants are suspended has a diameter of about 950-1000 µm.

17All the elements of the fibula were produced with a relatively similar base alloy, containing 82 to 83 wt% gold, 15 to 16 wt% silver, and 1 to just over 2 wt% copper. Within this already relatively narrow range two discrete subgroups emerge, with their main difference residing in the copper content. The chains and bells forming the pendants are made from an alloy containing a slightly higher copper content (1.5 to 2.3 wt% Cu), while the body of the fibula has consistently only 1 wt% copper. In contrast to the earrings, where the copper and silver contents were directly correlated, no such correlation is apparent here. The silver content is almost the same for all parts of the fibula, while the copper content differs by a factor of two between the pendant parts and the main body of the fibula. Whether the different concentrations of copper were used in order to change the hardness, or simply reflect the assemblage of parts obtained from different sources or even workshops, is impossible to decide on the basis of these analyses alone.

18The remaining gold artefacts were also studied and a full publication is forthcoming. Here, it may suffice to say that the workmanship is consistent with the details described above for the fibula and earrings, and that the majority of the other items are made from gold of similar or even baser composition than the one used for the fibula pendant parts, that is to say of gold with 15 to 25 wt% silver and 2 to 3 wt% copper. The bracelet with scarab and the necklace with stone inlay are made from higher-quality gold, with 15 to 18 wt% silver and 1 to 2 wt% copper. Remarkably, the three signet finger-rings with cartouche-shaped bezels (Fig. 4 shows that the internal surface of the bezel is also scratched) form a compositionally very different group, being made of high-carat gold. Their silver content is consistently below 2 wt%, and copper below 0.5 wt% in almost all analyses (Table 2).

Figure 4: The bezel of gold signet finger-ring 1742/1476: the internal surfaces of the bezels are scratched.
Figure 4 : Le chaton de la bague à sceau 1742/1475 : les surfaces internes du chaton ont été grattées.

Figure 4: The bezel of gold signet finger-ring 1742/1476: the internal surfaces of the bezels are scratched.Figure 4 : Le chaton de la bague à sceau 1742/1475 : les surfaces internes du chaton ont été grattées.

19The microscopic study of the objects did not reveal any hard grey inclusions in the gold, and the XRF analyses did not indicate the presence of platinum group elements in any of the analysed areas. Tin was found only in one of the XRF spectra, in one of the finger rings, at a level too low to reliably quantify.

3. Discussion

20The technical study of the finds shows the use of casting and hammering as well as of hard-soldering for the production of the jewellery from the Kition tomb. All these techniques could be identified on Phoenician, Punic and Tartesic jewellery. Similarly, the techniques of decoration by application of flower bells, glass paste in cloisonné, loop-in-loop chains, ropes made with twisted wires, etc. are also expected for this type of jewellery.

21Traces of use-wear could be seen on the surface of all objects. This indicates that the objects were used for some period of time, and not only made for funerary purposes. Phoenician jewellery is frequently accepted as the precursor of Etruscan gold work; however, the diameters of the wires, the thickness of the gold foils, the wire and filigree patterns, and so forth seen in our objects are far from the delicate craftsmanship of Etruscan gold.

22Chemically, there appear to be two different compositional groups represented among the gold objects; both are consistent with unalloyed native gold. With the exception of the three finger rings, the silver content varies from 15 to 25 wt%, while the copper content is mostly between 1 and 2.5 wt%. The silver content is what one would expect from mined natural gold, neither refined nor alloyed. Hough et al. (2009) report typical silver values for primary or hypogene gold of 5 to 20 wt%, only occasionally exceeding 50 wt%. Analytical data for geological gold suggest that most individually analysed gold particles have between 10 and c. 40 wt% silver, but almost always less than 1% copper (e.g. Chapman and Mortensen, 2006). However, most gold deposits also have small amounts of copper and silver minerals associated, and during the concentration of the gold from the mined rock ore, some of these heavy minerals will inevitably be retained in the resulting concentrate (see e.g. Hauptmann and Klein, 2009) in this volume of ArcheoSciences). Thus, during the smelting of the gold concentrate, this copper will be partly alloyed into the bullion, resulting in the slightly elevated levels reported here. In modern gold mining, using advanced mineral concentration methods and aiming for complete gold recovery, this results in much higher silver and copper concentrations in the raw bullion than are found in the individual gold grains from the same deposit.

23Gold obtained from secondary placer deposits, in contrast, differs systematically in its composition from the gold in the primary deposits. During transport, the silver content of the primary gold is more and more reduced due to leaching (e.g. Krupp and Weiser, 1992; Knight et al., 1999; Hough et al., 2009), while the primary accessory minerals such as chalcopyrite and various silver minerals are quickly dissolved and hence effectively separated from the placer gold. Depending on the make-up of the geological hinterland of the river system from which the placer gold is panned, it can be enriched in platinum group elements (Meeks and Tite, 1980) even though gold and platinum rarely occur together in the same primary deposits. This is noteworthy for example in the gold from Sardis in Turkey (Meeks et al., 1996). Thus, placer gold will have less copper and lower silver on average than freshly mined gold, but potentially more PGE inclusions.

24It is of course possible that the copper was added intentionally; the effects of even small amounts of copper on hardness are relatively high, due to the c 12% difference in atomic radii between gold and copper (Hough et al., 2009), while the effect on the colour is probably too low to have been manipulated at such a fine level. Equally, it is possible that a batch of gold of a certain composition, and hence property, was chosen for a specific task, that is, a copper-containing gold might have been preferred for objects that could exploit the improved hardness, such as thin sheet or wire making.

25The three finger rings with their exceptionally high gold content of 98 % or more form a very distinct group among the material excavated from the tomb; such a high-purity gold could indicate that it was refined and parted. However, current knowledge suggests that gold parting, that is the intentional removal of silver from native gold, was only introduced sometime in the mid-1st millennium BC, in the context of the development of gold coinage in Sardis (Ramage and Craddock, 2000). Therefore, it is more likely that these rings were made from a particular gold source rather than from fully refined gold. Such pure gold most likely comes from a secondary or supergene deposit. Supergene gold forms under specific environmental conditions, such as the warm and humid paleoclimate that resulted in the lateritic soils of SE Europe and Turkey to form (Herrington et al., 2007). During lateritic weathering, primary argentiferous gold is temporarily brought into solution and then re-deposited as almost pure gold grains and nuggets, typically containing 2 wt% silver or less, and nearly no copper (Freyssinet et al., 1989, 2005; Hough et al., 2009). On balance, we assume that the finger rings were made from supergene gold rather than from gold that had been subjected to parting.

4. Conclusion

26The investigation of the Kition jewellery has given detailed insight into the manufacturing skills of the Phoenician jewellers producing these outstanding objects, as well as showing their competent selection of natural gold alloys for different applications. The level of craftsmanship is consistent with the best of the known jewellery from the period, and the assumption that these objects were made by Phoenicians with some Egyptianizing influence on the iconography and design. While we can not exclude the possibility that the low copper concentrations in the gold containing 15 to 20 wt% silver are due to the alloying of a purer gold with a copper-silver alloy, we believe that the compositional characteristics of mined gold and supergene gold, respectively, are sufficient for an interpretation based on selection of natural gold varieties, rather than active manipulation of the gold composition.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Jewellery from the Kition tomb: (a) a lunate earring; (b) the elbow triangular fibula; (c) a signet finger ring.Figure 1 : Orfèvrerie de la tombe de Kition : (a) une de boucles d’oreille en lune; (b) la fibule triangulaire coudée; (c) une des bagues à sceau.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k
Titre Table 1: Internal reference analyses by XRF.Tableau 1 : Résultats des analyses de standards d’or par FX.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 32k
Titre Figure 2: Both ends of earring 1742/24, with the hammer facets on the surface typical of hammering.Figure 2 : Les deux terminaux de la boucle d’oreille 1742/24 avec les facettes typiques du martelage.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 268k
Titre Table 2: Results obtained by XRF for the lunate earrings, the elbow triangular fibula, and the signet finger-rings. Tableau 2 : Résultats obtenus par FX pour les boucles d’oreille en lune, pour la fibule triangulaire coudée et pour les bagues à sceau.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 40k
Titre Figure 3: The fibula construction: (a) the two branches are hard-soldered; (b) cloisonné rosette – the internal surfaces of the petals are scratched; (c) lotus flower bells hoop; (d) the loop-in-loop chains.Figure 3 : La construction de la fibule : (a) les deux branches soudées par brasure ; (b) la rosette en cloisonné – les surfaces internes sont grattées ; (c) les anneaux des cloches en forme de fleur de lotus ; (d) les chaînes de suspension.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 320k
Titre Figure 4: The bezel of gold signet finger-ring 1742/1476: the internal surfaces of the bezels are scratched.Figure 4 : Le chaton de la bague à sceau 1742/1475 : les surfaces internes du chaton ont été grattées.
URL http://archeosciences.revues.org/docannexe/image/2148/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 807k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Maria Filomena Guerra et Thilo Rehren, « In-situ examination and analysis of the gold jewellery from the Phoenician tomb of Kition (Cyprus) », ArchéoSciences, 33 | 2009, 151-158.

Référence électronique

Maria Filomena Guerra et Thilo Rehren, « In-situ examination and analysis of the gold jewellery from the Phoenician tomb of Kition (Cyprus) », ArchéoSciences [En ligne], 33 | 2009, mis en ligne le 21 mars 2011, consulté le 16 avril 2014. URL : http://archeosciences.revues.org/2148

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Auteurs

Maria Filomena Guerra

Laboratoire du Centre de Recherche et de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, UMR171 CNRS – 14, quai François-Mitterrand, 75001 Paris, France. (maria.guerra@culture.gouv.fr)

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Thilo Rehren

UCL Institute of Archaeology – 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, United Kingdom. (th.rehren@ucl.ac.uk)

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Droits d’auteur

Article L.111-1 du Code de la propriété intellectuelle.

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