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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.

January 19, 2021 — 8:30 pm
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