The Sarmizegetusa Bracelets
Constantinescu, Bogdan, Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, Ernest, Bugoi, Roxana, Cojocaru, Viorel, Radtke, Martin, Antiquity
Discovery and recovery
Between 1999 and 2001 several hoards containing at least 24 gold spiral bracelets were uncovered by organised gangs of illegal treasure hunters in five different spots in the area of Sarmizegetusa Regia, in the Orastie Mountains, Romania (Figure 1). In January 2007, after a long series of investigations by the Romanian authorities in collaboration with Interpol, four spiral-shaped gold bracelets were recovered and returned to Romania from France and the USA. A fifth gold bracelet was recovered thanks to co-operation between the Romanian and French judiciary authorities, while the sixth bracelet was recovered by the Romanian Border Police in June 2007 from a member of a criminal gang. Three more bracelets were repatriated in August 2007 from collectors in Switzerland and the USA, while two more bracelets were brought back from the USA in December 2008. The latest bracelet to be recovered arrived back in Romania in July 2009. Twelve bracelets had thus been recovered by the time this paper was submitted in December 2009 (Figure 2).
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As was later discovered during the criminal investigations and the subsequent judicial inquiry, the gold bracelets were found together with gold staters of pseudo-Lysimachus type, silver Thassos type 2 tetradrachms, Dacian tetradrachms of Radulesti-Hunedoara type and other objects. Sarmizegetusa Regia is the site of the ancient capital of the Dacian kingdom (Daicoviciu & Daicoviciu 1963; Daicoviciu 1972) and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. All the findspots are today located in dense forest around the sacred precinct (Figure 1). Unfortunately, since the excavations were made by treasure hunters rather than archaeologists, most of the context of these remarkable discoveries has been lost.
Description of the hoards
The inquiry determined that there had been five hoards or deposits, with contents deduced as follows.
Hoard 1 (March 1999) was found in a location called 'Muchea Cetatii' (loosely translated as 'The Fortress Ridge'). It included six gold bracelets (Bracelets 1-4 & 7-8).
Hoard 2, also known as 'Eureka', (spring of 1999) was from the top of the hill behind the sanctuaries. It included one bracelet, buried with 800 staters of Lysimachus type and other silver adornments. The bracelet was sold at auction at Christie's, New York, on 8 December 1999 (lot no. 26).
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Hoard 3, otherwise 'Professor Glodariu's loo', (4) (summer of 1999) included two bracelets (5 & 9), 200 staters of Lysimachus type and 500 tetradrachms (Thassos tetradrachms of the second type and Dacian tetradrachms of Radulesti-Hunedoara type).
Hoard 4 (6 May 2000) included ten gold bracelets in a cist beneath a large rock situated on the steep slope of the Caprareata Hill. From this group the only one to be recovered up to now is Bracelet 6. The context was spectacular: a pit covered with a large slab made out of mica-schist. The bracelets were set in pairs in two distinct superimposed compartments (Ciuta 2008).
Hoard 5 (26-27 May 2001) was from a location called 'The Reservoirs', on the lower slopes of the Caprareata Hill. It included five gold bracelets, from which only Bracelets 10 and 11 have so far been recovered.
The late-arriving Bracelet 12 probably belongs either to hoard 4 or 5.
The 12 bracelets recovered by the Romanian authorities up to December 2009 are shown in Figure 2, and are currently on public display in the Treasury of the National History Museum of Romania in Bucharest. These are the first solid gold bracelets of Dacian craftsmanship to be discovered in Romania, although similar bracelets made from sliver and silver-gilt are known (Medelet 1994; and see below).
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The bracelets are spiroform with beast-head terminals (Figure 3). …