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Stare at this beautiful thing!

This is part of the pommel of a sword dug up in 1808 from Bush Barrow, a Bronze Age burial mound half mile from Stonehenge. It’s about 4,000 years old.

Let me ‘splain what you’re looking at. The craftsman extruded a wire a bit thicker than a human hair, snipped off a millimeter of it and flattened the end to make a stud. Like a tiny golden nail. You can see them side-on in the image bottom right.

Then he poked a hole for the nail in a wooden pommel and stuck it in the hole with a resin adhesive. This would have required some sort of awl and some sort of tweezers – these things are way too small for human fingers.

There would have been maybe 140,000 of these tiny gold nails in the final piece, which would have taken an estimated 2,300 man-hours. Yes, I am defiantly using the expression ‘man-hours’.

The article doesn’t say so, but it would have sparkled magically.

The article also quotes an “expert on the optics of the human eye” who said only children or people who ruined their eyesight as children could have done this work, which would impair them for life.

I thought we’d been told that was a myth; that you don’t ruin your eyesight making lace. My optometrist told me it wasn’t so much that my eyesight was deteriorating, as that it was more and more fixed at the distance I used most (i.e. computer screen distance).

Anyway, take it from myopic me; it wouldn’t have impacted life all that much. I go around without my glasses most of the time and life is a pleasant soft and gauzy haze. Minimal bruises.

I tried to find a better site for this story than Ancient Origins, which seems like an ‘aliens invented underpants’ sort of place, but I failed. I also spent quite a while trying to find a YouTube to explain how the ancients made fine gold wire. All the demonstrations of wire-making I could find involve blowtorches and a tool-and-die works. No success so far.


Comment from durnedyankee
Time: January 19, 2021, 9:50 pm

Yeah, cold drawing wire always puzzled me too.
Here’s a video on it.


Perhaps you had to be wearing the alien underpants during the process.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: January 19, 2021, 9:51 pm

Here’s another one since I didn’t want to end up in the ass porn bucket.


this reminds me of watching people describe systems they’d built that they were trying to get us to buy.
With diagrams on overhead projectors….

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: January 19, 2021, 9:57 pm

And a third, because I enjoyed the accent, plus it shows the die reduction series, mentions the cooling (gee, it heats as it draws through the dies?…ya think?).


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 19, 2021, 10:11 pm

Thanks for that, Durned. It gets me a little closer to understanding how early tech might accomplish the task.

Funny how the article discussed an awl and tweezers as tools they would have, but it seems to me the wire would require much more sophisticated tools. Grips and a winch of some kind at least.

Maybe they bought in wire from more sophisticated metalworkers in the Middle East. We know they had trade routes.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 19, 2021, 10:46 pm

Also, little brain here can’t work out why the metal doesn’t just snap off at the grips. I guess it’s easier with gold than other metals, but still.

You couldn’t do this with anything really soft.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 19, 2021, 10:55 pm

I mean, you got Play Doh, you can *push* it through a hole, but you couldn’t *pull* it.

Comment from dissent
Time: January 20, 2021, 3:48 am

I better hang on to these links. I may need ’em after the apocalypse.

… oh, wait …

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: January 20, 2021, 7:12 am

Sweasy – Software “engineer” here, not a real one.

Envisioned that some of the metal would shear off, like trimming down a blank piece of wood to a spindle, but it appears that using a series of increasingly smaller diameter dies with cone shaped input side actually pulls the ‘excess’ material that’s larger than the die diameter into the wire itself. And you get a longer wire, narrower wire than you had on input
The product wire of the first video looked longer but maybe I looked away at the wrong moment 🙂

So my guess as to why it doesn’t snap is you don’t try and draw say, an inch diameter down to a 1/4 inch diameter on your first go, you drop down to, say, 14/16th’s or some diameter that doesn’t snap your material and keep reducing until you have the fineness of wire you want.
Perhaps the first go of a flat stock does shear some metal off going from flat to round? But you’re a smith, right?
Those metal shavings go back into the crucible for the next bar stock?
Just Swaggin on this, but we know it can be done with relatively simple tools.
I say simple, so go ahead and try mining and smelting the ore into bar stock.

All of that is why I’ve always maintained our civilization is like the veneer on a piece of Ikea furniture, we’ve forgotten how to make the tools we need to make the tools from scratch.

Comment from M
Time: January 20, 2021, 12:35 pm

With all the hobbyists in Britain working in old crafts I’m surprised no one has tried to recreate this.

Comment from weasel again
Time: January 20, 2021, 3:29 pm

I suspect someone has, M. The trick is finding it. I certainly search YT for it with no luck.

Plenty of online tutorials for flint knapping.

Comment from BJM
Time: January 20, 2021, 8:10 pm

I dabble in silversmithing and drawing wire is much easier than it looks, it is my fav technique. I hate lost wax/sand casting, except for dropping beads, too much fiddling about. Hammering and drawing ingots into sheets and wire is instant gratification. Back in the day, ancient designs sold very well, Thracian “Herakles knot” arm bands and Etruscan hammered silver wire earrings and Roman snake bracelets with Victorian glass beads especially. I could only afford to work in 22 ct gold a couple of times but it’s even easier to manipulate than sterling. Durned pretty much describes the technique. I recommend silversmithing if you have time and the bent, it’s very meditative.

Comment from DurnedYankee
Time: January 20, 2021, 10:27 pm

Hammered Etruscan…

Funny thing happened on my way to the forum, I bumped into a hammered Etruscan girl and….

And what Roman boy wasn’t hoping to run into a hammered Etruscan girl?

Comment from BJM
Time: January 21, 2021, 2:11 am

@Durned Ha! I’m working on getting hammered tonight…or was that nailed?

Never mind.

Comment from drew458
Time: January 26, 2021, 2:52 pm

Everything on Anicient Origins has been published elsewhere, often years earlier. There’s no rush with ancient history.

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