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During the Bronze Age (2,500-1500 BC), amber acquired great ornamental and symbolic importance for prehistoric European peoples. For imitate this raw material, highly demanded but not abundant, the communities of the Iberian Peninsula coated necklace beads with tree resins.
Magazine PLoS ONE post this week the first discovery of counterfeit amber pieces in two prehistoric burials in Spain.
The researchers, led by the archaeologist from the University of Seville Carlos Odriozola, found two accounts from the third millennium BC. in the cave of La Molina (in Seville) and four pieces from the second millennium BC. in the Gegant's cave (near Barcelona).
"This is the first time that an imitation of such a valuable material has been recorded in European prehistory," Odriozola tells Sinc, who points out that they used an electron microscope and infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction techniques to study the chemical composition and structure of the six pieces.
According to the results, the prehistoric people covered different supports (such as seashells) with tree resin and sediments with calcium, cinnabar or calcite to imitate the brightness and color of the original amber.
"Yet we don't know what the purpose of the imitations was. Perhaps the middlemen in the trade wanted to deceive the leaders with the fakes, or perhaps the leaders who did not have sufficient resources to acquire the amber developed a similar material. There can be many causes ”, emphasizes Odriozola.
Exotic and rare materials
In the two fields Other rare and exotic materials from this era were also found, such as ivory, gold, and cinnabar. For archaeologists, the people who were buried with these precious pieces could have been the subject of a hoax.
In fact, in the cave of the Gegant the imitations were found mixed together with pieces of real amber, suggesting that not everyone was able to distinguish the imitation from the original material.
"Although there are many materials that resemble amber, the discovery of these forgeries is important because there is an intention to deceive the human eye," says Odriozola.
According to experts, chemical analysis of pieces of real amber will be able to prevent in the future misidentifications of this type of material in Iberian deposits.
Odriozola, C. et al. 'Amber imitation? Two unusual cases of Pinus‘. PLoS ONE. May 1, 2019.