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Research trips in times of pandemic: Gold of Mycenae

In 2021, Prof Ernst Pernicka and Moritz Numrich travelled to various European museums to take minimally invasive samples of objects using the innovative portable laser ablation technique (pLA) as part of the research project "Mycenaean gold - investigations into origin, distribution and authenticity" funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

ICP-MS analyses of the main, secondary and trace elements were then carried out on a representative selection of gold objects in order to answer questions about the classification of the material, its origin, the workshops involved and possible cleaning processes of the gold used in the Bronze Age.

Fortunately, in addition to the actual funding, the foundation also approved further funds to analyse Early Bronze Age find complexes from the Aegean region and compare them with those from Mycenae. These include the finds from Nidri (Lefkada), Poliochni (Lemnos) and Troia, all of which are in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and were also sampled there using the pLA method. The spectacular gold objects from the Mycenaean culture were examined both in Athens and in the Archaeological Museum of Chania on Crete.

In addition, this research project is also investigating the contacts of the Mycenaean culture in the Aegean region by analysing gold artefacts. To this end, contemporaneous finds from excavations in Italy (including Roca Vecchia and Frana Polesine) and the Czech Republic (Königgrätz) were analysed on site in the respective museums and collections using the laser system.

Another focus of the project aims to narrow down the origin of the Late Bronze Age gold. In research, Egypt and Sudan are usually cited as the most likely sources. There is also the possibility that the gold came from the Balkans, possibly from the Ada Tepe mine. To this end, analyses of Egyptian and Nubian artefact gold were carried out both in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and in the Egyptian Museum Berlin using the mobile laser system. In addition, samples from the Balkan region were analysed. The results will be compared with the analysis results from the Mycenaean cultural area as part of Moritz Numrich’s dissertation project.

The results will be presented during the Schliemann Year 2022 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), who excavated Troy and Mycenae at the end of the 19th century.

Thanks to the support of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, parts of these trips were also accompanied by a film team, resulting in a five-part film series that can be found on L.I.S.A., the Foundation’s science portal: