Saturday, April 28, 2012

El Tesoro de Villena

In 1963 some workmen in Villena, found a bracelet in the gravel they were spreading. The foreman hung the bracelet up on the wall so that whoever had dropped it could reclaim it. Some time later one of the workers thought he might just pop it around to the local jeweller to see if it was worth anything. As it was made of half a kilo of 24 carat gold it did have a certain value. Fortunately the jeweller thought there was something odd about it and he suggested showing it to a local archaeologist. In turn this chap recognised it as being 3,000 years old or from the late Bronze Age. Nowadays of course the workman would have taken it to one of those "I Buy Gold" shops that litter every Spanish street corner where they would have gladly weighed it in to be turned it into a nice charm bracelet without batting an eye lid.

The archaeologist, José María Soler by name, suggested they go and have a look where the gravel had come from just in case there was anything else there. They found a clay urn which contained 59 objects made of gold, silver, iron and amber with a total weight of over 9 kilos. Nine of the pieces are of nearly 24 carat gold. The treasure is the most important haul of prehistoric gold found in the Iberian Peninsula and second in Europe only to a haul in Greece. The iron pieces are the oldest found in the Peninsula and date from a time when iron was considered to be a precious metal. Workmen and archaeologist strolling up to Cabezo Redondo, very close to the current Industrial Estate, may not be as romantic as Howard Carter breaking into King Tut's tomb under a burning Egyptian sun but it is, nonetheless, a really impressive haul.

The treasure is now kept in Villena's Archaeological Museum alongside the Town Hall. Unless you knew the treasure was there beforehand it would be quite easy to go into the museum and miss it. The haul is kept in an armoured glass case and normally the doors of the case are kept firmly closed until one of the museum staff opens it up for any visitors. The bracelets and bowls are in excellent condition and have a modern contemporary look. I can well see why the workman didn't recognise how old the original bracelet was.

The story of the discovery of the treasure is told in a subtitled version of a No-Do, the Spanish cinema newsreel equivalent to the old UK Pathé News. I thought the No-Do piece told the story rather well even though the re-enactment of the discovery of the bracelet by the real life Spanish workmen, jeweller and archaeologist was of about the same quality as my portrayal of a penguin in the St Paul's Cub Scout Christmas Pantomime that same year.

There is apparently no idea where the pieces come from, who made them or how they ended up in Villena but they really are very pretty and well worth a look if you happen to be in the area.

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