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Ancient Bronze Hand Leaves Archaeologists Perplexed

And leads to a criminal investigation
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2018 7:11 AM CDT
Updated Sep 30, 2018 10:10 AM CDT
The hand of Preles, which weighs nearly 500 g, was cast in bronze with tin. The thin gold plate applied above the wrist is adorned with delicate scrolls.   (Archaeological Service of the Canton of Berne, Philippe Joner)
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(Newser) – The hand is a bit smaller than that of an adult and made from roughly a pound of bronze. What it was used for has perplexed archaeologists since it was found in Switzerland last October. At an estimated 3,500 years old, National Geographic calls it "Europe's earliest metal body part"—though it subsequently narrows that to "the earliest metal representation" of one. As Gizmodo explains, archaeologists don't believe someone wore the hand but, rather, that an internal socket allowed it to be affixed atop a stick or pole. It was unearthed by metal detector-armed treasure hunters searching around Lake Biel in what archaeologists later discovered was a grave in extreme disrepair. It held the bones of a middle-aged man, along with items that included a bronze pin and one of the bronze hand's fingers.

Because the hand was taken from the scene in a less-than-scientific way, any knowledge that could be gleaned about its use based on how it might have been arranged with the buried man's body has been lost to history. That's left Andrea Schaer of the Bern Archaeological Service with only speculations: "It must have been placed on something, but we don’t know what"—National Geographic suggests "it could have adorned a statue, been mounted on a stick and wielded like a scepter, or even worn as a prosthetic as part of a ritual." A press release notes "its gold ornament suggests that it is an emblem of power, a distinctive sign of the social elite, even of a deity." Gizmodo reports on a weird twist: a criminal investigation is underway based on authorities' belief that some items may have been stolen from the grave. (A metal detector unearthed treasure tied to King Bluetooth.)

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