When Gold Lost Its Bling

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When Gold Lost Its Bling

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Most of us perceive the past as a time when gold took centre stage in commerce, fashion and even religion as the ultimate status symbol, as much for its gleaming, opulent appearance as its raw monetary value.

But, according to some startling new research, it seems that gold may not have always sparked an avaricious gleam in the eye of every ancient pirate, priest, or prince.

In fact, it seems there was a time during our past when gold created exactly the opposite effect, as a source of derision and even loathing.

Yes, that’s right. There was a time when gold fell emphatically out of fashion and was seen by many if not most as nothing more than overblown bling.

The research, published in the journal Nature, is based on an analysis of more than 4500 Bronze and Iron Age objects that originated from 89 individual sites across Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in a region known as the Caucasus and shows how gold was rejected at some of the world’s ancient centres for gold mining and gold working. 

Undertaken by Prof. Nathaniel Erb-Satullo, lecturer in archaeological science at the Cranfield Forensic Institute of Cranfield University, England, the study tested a number of different theories about the known sudden reduction in gold use across most of the region during the period from 1500 to 800 BC.

What the analysis showed was that there was no downturn in access to gold from mining, nor was there any devastating economic collapse in the region.

And this is the incredible thing: The people of the Caucasus were for thousands of years deeply enamoured of gold as an object of wealth, ambition, and magnificence.

Via Steve Batiuk

Caucasian cultures were among the earliest to develop sophisticated gold mining and working techniques and even acquired notoriety for their vast golden treasures, demonstrated in the popular Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

According to the myth, the Golden Fleece was the pelt of a winged ram that was regarded as a symbol of authority and kingship. The hero Jason and his crew of Argonauts set out on a quest for the fleece to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Thessaly.

However, the archaeological evidence tells a different tale. Evidence from grave goods from 1500 to 800 BC demonstrates that gold fell drastically out of favour with the influential in the Caucasus region.

Prof. Erb-Satullo worked on various premises regarding the factors that could have caused this decline. He concluded that social rather than economic or demographic factors were the primary causes of this fall.

 “The findings suggest that rather than any shortages, the abandonment of gold was due to cultural factors, Professor Erb-Satullo says. “The way that gold objects were used in society provided clues as to the nature of this social rejection.”

Prof. Erb-Satullo and his team believe that in the centuries leading up to the decline, gold had become an extreme symbol of elitism.

The evidence for this comes from the prominence of golden grave goods from this period. These objects of success and wealth gradually lost their attractive glimmer as people rejected them as displays of conspicuous consumption.

As such, golden goods appeared regularly before 1500 BC but then declined to disappear almost entirely for many centuries until a small resurgence after 800 BC.

“People still buried their dead with an array of grave goods and social differences between the social strata were still visible, but huge, ostentatious burial mounds disappeared, and gold is noticeably absent,” says Dr Erb-Satullo.

“In general there was a turn away from a social order that emphasised elite individuals towards one that centred political and religious institutions, manifested by the appearance of monumental fortresses and sacred shrines.”

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