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26 October 2008
Prehistoric jewels found in desk at Cardiff university

Tiny gold studs thought to be almost 4,000 years old which had been unearthed close to Stonehenge have been found in a desk drawer at Cardiff university. The gold studs once decorated the handle of a Bronze Age dagger buried in the grave of a warrior at Bush Barrow, Wiltshire, between 1900 and 1700 BCE. They were dug up 200 years ago and loaned to the university in the 1960s. A senior lecturer at Cardiff recently found the gold studs and they will now be displayed at a museum in Devizes.
     According to experts from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, the dagger was made in Brittany and the handle was ornamented with thousands of the tiny gold studs, each one of which is almost small enough to fit through the eye of a needle. The studs ornamented the handle in a herringbone pattern and had been fixed into the wooden handle using a bronze tool to make a hole in the wood, and were fixed in place using resin or animal glue. The gold pins, thought to come from Ireland, were fashioned by craftsmen in Brittany, France, and inlaid in an intricate herringbone pattern into the handle of the ceremonial dagger, which had an eight inch bronze blade. It is the richest and most important Bronze Age grave on the Salisbury Plain and in Britain, according to experts.
     The burial containing the dagger was excavated 200 years ago at Bush Barrow but thousands of the studs became scattered across the site by archaeologists who did not know what they were. In the 1960s, some of the studs were loaned to Prof Richard Atkinson of Cardiff university, who was well-known for his excavations at Silbury Hill and Stonehenge. They were placed in an old film canister, simply labelled 'Bush Barrow', and were later found by Prof John G. Evans, who put them in his desk. Prof Evans died in 2005 and the gold studs were recovered from his old desk by Niall Sharples, a senior lecturer at the university.
     David Dawson, the Wiltshire Heritage Museum's director first heard about the missing studs at a lecture in London. He said: "The gold studs are remarkable evidence of the skill and craftsmanship of Bronze Age goldsmiths - quite rightly described as 'the work of the gods'. We look forward to these studs coming back to the museum, joining those that have been preserved in our collections for 200 years."
     The studs will be displayed at the museum as part of a special exhibition marking 200 years since the discovery of Britain's richest Bronze Age burial at Bush Barrow.

Sources: BBC News (22 October 2008), Telegraph.co.uk, This is Wiltshire (23 October 2008)

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