Recent findings reveal that children as young as 10 years old were who created some of the greatest treasures of the Bronze Age.
Intricately decorated daggers and jewelry, known today as the Stonehenge treasure, were unearthed in 1808 from a burial mound known as Bush Barrow near the iconic monument.
The burial contained the skeleton of a clan leader who lived almost 4,000 years ago. He was laid to rest in royal brilliance with objects that showed his power and authority such as a gold lozenge at his cloak and an detailed bronze dagger at his belt.
Fast forward and the Stonehenge treasure was re-examined as part of a BBC documentary. It was then that experts considered, for the first time, the human cost of Bronze Age micro gold-working.
This was 1,000 years before the invention of any type of magnifying glass and the extremely tiny gold pins, microscopic studs and wires probably exhausted the workers’ eyesight.
Ronald Rabbetts, one of the Britain’s leading authorities on the optics of the human eye stated, “Only children and teenagers, and those adults who had become myopic naturally or due to the nature of their work as children, would have been able to create and manufacture such tiny objects.”
So how many of these little stones are we talking about?
The handle of the Bush Barrow dagger was originally decorated with 140,000 tiny studs, each thinner than a human hair. They were set into the wood at a density of over 1,000 per square centimeter to create a zig-zag pattern.
“The size of the studs clearly shows they are too small for adults to have made and set into the dagger handle,” David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Museum said in a recent interview.
Dawson estimated the entire operation to produce the dagger’s intricate decoration, from wire manufacture and stud-making to hole-making and stud positioning, would have taken at least 2,500 hours to complete and would have left the workers almost blind.
Experts believe children were trained and worked in Brittany, where some 20 daggers with handles decorated with tiny gold pins have been found.
Dawson claimed, “The Bush Barrow dagger is far and away the most intricate, but the numbers suggest that the daggers were made in Brittany — where there are also sources of gold. Metal ingots were traded across the English Channel, but the dagger may have been a gift from one chieftain to another.”
The artisans suffered.
As flourishing as it might have been, experts say that within five years of the micro gold-working , the child’s eyes would have deteriorated, becoming short-sighted. By the age of 20, many of them were likely almost blind, seeing anything more than 3 feet away as just a blur since there were no spectacles either. This news about the ancient treasure was eye-opening to say the least.