Golden Axe of Tufalau

Natural History Museum Vienna

Natural History Museum Vienna

Bronze Age. Circa 1650 BC. Tufalau, Romania.

The pure gold crested axe was not a practical piece but a very rare status symbol, evidence of a high social position and great economic power.

In 1840 one of south-eastern Europe’s richest finds of golden items was discovered in Tufalau, in what was then Transylvania, containing nine gold axes, numerous golden hair rings, and gold discs of various sizes. One axe and a number of gold discs were purchased for the Treasury in Vienna in 1851, and these were transferred to the Prehistoric Department of the NHM in 1924. Archeologists use the term hoard to describe objects deliberately hidden in the ground, including valuable objects. Axes, such as the golden axe of Tufalau, were discovered with striking frequency near fortified hill settlements. Golden axes were not used for battle or other practical purposes, and were pure status symbols. The value of the material was further enhanced by decoration. There were probably powerful chieftains living in the settlements, which were close to important trade centers and deposits of raw materials. Possibly they sacrificed weapons and jewelry at a central ceremonial site, to demonstrate their political and economic power. The powerful men of the Bronze Age had a far-reaching supraregional network for trading goods and raw materials, and probably also ideas and attitudes. The finely-incised spiral decorations on the gold items from Tufalau are an indication that the chiefdoms in the Carpathian Basin maintained contact with the city cultures in the Greek and Mycenaean regions. One motivation for the encounters between the unequal societies was probably the rich salt and ore deposits in the Carpathian Basin, which were traded for luxury goods from the South.

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  • Title: Golden Axe of Tufalau
  • Rights: (c) NHM (Lois Lammerhuber)