In George Eliot’s novel Silas Marner, the delusional namesake character returns home to find what he thinks to be his missing hoard of gold on the kitchen table. But when he reaches out his hand to touch the coins, his fingers instead meet the shiny curls of a lost, sleeping child who has wandered in.
The story jumps to mind when looking at images of some 2,000 ancient gold spirals recently discovered in Denmark. They’re about an inch long, and some of them are as thin, Smithsonian Magazine observes, as a human hair.
The coils were unearthed in a field in Boslunde, where many other gold Bronze Age objects have been found. A couple years ago, two amateur archaeologists dug up four “oath rings” there, prompting archaeologists Flemming Kaul and Kirsten Christense — also curators at the National Museum of Denmark and Museum Vestsjælland respectively — to carry out proper excavations.
They soon found the gold spirals tangled together in a pile. Beneath them lay flakes of birch pitch that once formed part of the box that held them. Two gilded dress pins nearby allowed them to date the coils to roughly 900–700 BCE.
What purpose the curly-cues actually served remains a bit of a mystery. “The fact is that we do not know, but I tend to believe they were part of a priest king’s costume or headwear,” Kaul said in a press release. “Maybe the priest-king wore a gold ring on his wrist, and gold spirals on his cloak and his hat, where they during ritual sun ceremonies shone like the sun.”
Gold was sacred to the Bronze Age peoples of Northern Europe. It embodied the sun and the immortality that it represented, and as such was often sacrificed to their gods. Because so much of it has been found in Boslunde, archaeologists believe it could have been an important religious site. Whatever the case, Eliot would certainly have been amused.