Metal

Adornments of the prehistoric hoard from Sarasău

MNIR
Prehistory
15th – 14th c. BC
The horizon of bronze hoards of Uriu – Ópályi type / Bronze C–D / „Late Bronze 2”
Gold
MNIR
 
 
 
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    Adornments of the prehistoric hoard from Sarasău

    Text: dr. Corina Borș; photo: Marius Amarie

     

    Brief history of the discovery

    The eleven prehistoric gold objects presented here (Figure 1) are known in the specialised literature as being part of the Sarasău hoard (in Magyar Szarvasszó, Maramureș county, Romania), a stray find made in spring 1847. Most probably the treasure was discovered on the sloap of the Vâlcelușe Hill, located south to the above-mentioned locality, in the extension of the high terrace of the left bank of Tisza river, on a spot called “Secătura”. It is important to notive that in relation to this locality there are numerous mentions about stray archaeological finds from prehistory; also in here have been made a series of archaeological excavations in different relevant spots, as well as field walkings made by Carol Kacsó in order to establish the discovery place of this treasure. Thus, on the territory of Sarasău locality were identified throughout time a series of settlements, but also a significant number of metal objects (bronze hoards, isolated bronze objects, gold treasure) dating from the Bronze Age.

    Sadly, since the moment of discovery, the objects part of the treasure were divided among the numerous denizens who took part at the treasure’s digging up; the archive documents of those times record that only from the first discovered were confiscated by the authorities about 4.5 kg of gold objects, but for melting and reusing the precious metal. The corroboration of different references in regard to this find allow to estimate that the treasure would have contained a significant larger amount of gold objects than the ones known to date. As a result, one have to take into account that the treasure from Sarasău would have been, most probably, one of the most important one (in a cantitative way, but not only) prehistoric hoards of gold artifacts (and possibly bronze) discovered on nowadays territory of Romania.

    Later on, only a very small part of the gold objects of the Sarasău treasure were acquired by the National Magyar Museum (Magyar Nemszeti Múzeum) in Budapest; the museum’s inventory in 1884 included: 4 spiral appliques (two complete and two fragmentary), a fragment of a terminal plate (in shape of a leaf) pertaining to a spiral disc, 3 pendants of gold foil in shape of lunulae, two larger links, 86 grooved links (currently only 81 still existing) and 164 beads (out of which only 43 exist to date). Worth to mention that based on documentary sources, during the 7th and 8th decades of the 19th century, most probably parts of the Sarasău treasure were offered for purchase to antique collectors (from Hungary and Austria) or to museums (possibly the Museum of Natural Sciences in Vienna), but these objects can no longer be identified. 

    Another lot of objects is represented by the so-called Mihályi collection, which comprised for a while more than the 11 objects recently entered in the collections of the National History Museum of Romania (NHMR). The objects kept in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest were published by Amália Moszolics, and the ones of the former Mihályi collection became known (inclusively the lost ones) by the studies of Dorin Popescu and Carol Kacsó. As regards the objects of this treasure recently acquired for the collections of the National History Museum of Romania, there have been made during the last months a series of multidisciplinary investigations (in the Investigation Department of NHMR and in the specialised laboratories of the National Institute for Research and Development in Optoelectronics – INOE 2000), the preliminary results being published in this paper.

    In summer 2015, Iosif Pop presented to the NHMR for acquisition a lot of archaeological artefacts part of the Sarasău treasure, objects which previously were part of the collections of the Mihályi of Apșa family and became his property by succesive bequests. Based on the existing documentary sources is known that one of the treasure’s discoverers was László Man, who left heritage part of these objects to her daughter, Julia Man, who on her right transmitted them to her son, Ioan (János) Mihályi, the one who will make known the conditions of finds by a letter addressed to Floris Rómer, in 1864. Also, worth to mention that Ioan (János) Mihályi was the author of a study (remained only in manuscript) about the prehistory of Maramureș. Part of Sarasău treasure found in his collections was inherited from generation to generation and in the contemporary period reached in the possesion of the family Sofia and Petre Mihali, and later – in 2001 – of their daughter, and in the end to Iosif Pop. The lot of objects found currently in the collections of NHMR comprises the following prehistoric gold objects: 7 (seven) disc-shape appliques (spiral discs); 3 (three) gold links with open endings, decorated with small circular ribs and 239 (two hundreed and thirty nine) hemispheric gold beads, slightly oblate. These objects were acquired, in winter 2016, by the National History Museum of Romania with financial means provided by the Ministry of Culture.

     

    The (anecdotic) story of the treasure’s discovery told by Iosif Pop, the last heir of the Mihályi family

    Beyond the official history regarding the discovery of the treasure, told in detail by Ioan Mihályi in a letter send to Floris Rómer on the 6th October 1864, the inheritors of of Ioan Mihályi transmitted from generation to generation an unpublished story about the moment when the hoard was found, thus its account in time led to the creation of a myth around the trove from Sarasău, but without taking into consideration the chronology of the facts and the identity of the persons who lived in 1847. 

    The tale is known from his family by the last heir of the Mihályi of Apșa, Iosif Opo, who owned a part of the above mentioned treasure, by inheriting it from Margareta Mihalyi și Petre Mihalyi. The story narrated by Iosif Pop is the following: “The prefect Mihalyi de Apșa had a huge estate at Sarasău, namely a kind of farm, managed by hired staff ... Being somehow greedy by nature, on each evening he had the habit to count the animals when returning to the farm. Thus, on one evening, while observing the return of the pigs he notice that one had something shining on its maw ... He took it aside and identified the object as being a gold needle. Being a useful and wise person he concluded that the place were the pigs nuzzled that day has to be checked out”. However, in reality, according to the documentary sources of mid-19th century, quoted by various publications, the treasure was discovered accidentally in 1847 during the life of László Man, the grandfather of Ioan (János) Mihályi, by a series of employees from the farm, following a heavy rain, which washed away the slope of the hill where the treasure was deposited. Despite all these, the story kept in the memory of the Mihályi family and their descendants, and transmited to us by Iosif Pop, is as interesting as it provides new data allowing a much thorough understanding on the construction mechanism for the myths around the “troves” discovered in time. 

     

    “The reconstruction” of the Sarasău hoard’s structure

    Given the significance of the Sarasău hoard, by the corroboration of various documentary sources, sometime not clear and contradictory, we tried a “reconstruction” of its components. The main two lots of objects are certainly the ones who “survived” to date on the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest (acquired in 1847/1848 and, probably, in 1880), respectively the one of the Mihályi collection, purchased at the end of 2016 by the National History Museum of Romania.

    The first partial publication of the objects of the Sarasău hoard dates from 1865, by an article of Floris Rómer, based on the letter send to him by Ioan Mihályi one year before. On this occasion, were mentioned as part of the Sarasău treasure a series of simple links, undecorated, with rhombic section, nowadays lost (Figure 2; Figure 3).

    It is not sure that this prehistoric hoard comprised exclusively gold objects, since certain authors (Jószef Hampel and Márton Roska) mention also the existance of a bronze socketed ax. 

    Also, according to the data corroborated by Carol Kacsó, it seems that the hoard comprised not only the type of gold objects known to date (spiral discs, richly decorated; indented links and small size beads), but at least two massive anklets, made of precious metal, nowadays lost. On the same time, one had to add that there are documentary mentions about the objects entered in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapesta, during 1847–1848, namely certain certain bracelets (with smaller diameter), as well lost today. 

    The objects in the collection of Mihályi family were displayed for the first time in an exhibition organised at Sighetul Marmației, in 1876. On this occasion, the lot of objects from the Sarasău hoard, found in the possesion of one of the heirs of László Man, comprised 8 spiral discs (appliques), 6 links and 452 beads, as well as two plate (leaf-shape) from endings of the spiral discs, together with a fragment of one of the exterior or middle (flat) coil of an applique.

    Up to the mid-20th century, the information concerning the adornments from the Sarasău hoard (both in the collection of the Mihályi family and the one of the National Magyar Museum in Budapesta) remained somehow uncertain, if to consider the data published, in 1956, by Dorin Popescu on his synthesis study about the metallurgy of the prehistoric gold in Transylvania. Worth to mention that, even one century after the treaure’s discovery also the number of the most emblematic component objects, the spiral appliques, was uncertain (since Jószef Hampel mentions seven such object, while Vasile Pârvan counted 15 spiral objects, but Márton Roska only 12 artefacts of this kind) (Figure 4 – Piese din tezaurul de la Sarasău, Popescu 1956, after Rómer 1865).

    Only in 1966, when Amália Mozsolics published the objects pertaining to the Sarasău hoard kept in the collection of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest, the data of various sources about this find were corroborated and ares et the first typological analogies, along with the chronological framework of these prehistoric adornments. Even at that time, the information about the objects from the Mihályi collection were unclear, since – given a series of information published at the end of the 19th century by Jószef Hampel – was considered as uncertain the existance of certain objects or even the entire collection was deemed lost for ever (Figure 5 a, b).

    After another decade and a half, Carol Kacsó will publish the entire lot of objects which still were in the possesion of the Mihályi family.

    In conclusion, one can consider today that the following objects pertain certain, in the moment of the discovery, to the Sarasău hoard:

    - spiral appliques aplice (discs) – most probably more than 14 objects of this type found innitially, namely 11 preserved to date, respectively 4 in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest (two of it being the only entire pieces of this kind – Figure 6), and the 7 ones (all fragmentary) in the collections of the National History Museum of Romania (with the remark that it is known for sure that at least one such artefact and a fragment of another were lost in time);

    - fragments in shape of a leaf from the endigs of the spiral appliques – a fragment in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest and another in the collections of the National History Museum of Romania;

    - lunula type pendants – only 3 such objects known to date, all to be found in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest;

    - grooved links of various sizes – over 100 such objects discovered innitially, out of which are still existing 81 (out of the 86 acquired in mid-19th century) in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest and the 3 ones (out of the 8 known to have existed in the Mihályi collection) at the National History Museum of Romania;

    - beads (simple and with bitronconical shape) – probably more than 600 such objects found innitially, out of which are still existing 43 (of the 160 acquired in mid-19th century) in the collections of the National Magyar Museum in Budapest and 239 (of the 452 known to have existed in the Mihályi collection) at the National History Museum of Romania (Figure 6 - 7).

    One have to add, according to the documentary sources, certain artefacts that might have been part of the hoard, namely:

    - two massive gold anklets;

    - several gold bracelets or links (with rhomboidal section);

    - a bronze socketed ax.

     

    The description of the gold adornments of the prehistoric treasure of Sarasău, recently acquired for the collections of the National History Museum of Romania 

    Place of discovery: Sarasău (Maramureș County) (old name of the locality: Szarvasszó, in former Máramaros County); spot: Vâlcelușe Hill (on the slope’s half), southward from the house of László Man, about 200 steps from the railway 

    Year of discovery: 1847

    Context of discovery: stray find 

    Dating: Late Bronze Age / 15th – 14th c. BC (the horizon of bronze hoards of Uriu – Ópályi type / Bronze C–D / „Late Bronze 2”)

    NHMR (inv. no. 358466 – 358476)

    The lot of objects, part of the prehistoric treasure from Sarasău, acquired by the National History Museum of Romania, by the end of 2016, comprises: 7 (seven) disc-shape appliques (spiral discs); 3 (three) gold links with open endings and a necklace of 239 hemispheric gold beads.

    (1) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre six thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section, the inner ending being slightly flattened, with point shape aspect. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, in vertical position, a point shape decor, varying from one to four dots. The outer ending of the applique decorated with a median rib, adorned by a “fake cord” motif, framed on each sides by a row of points. The object ends with a fragment of wire, with rectangular section, broken in the past.

    Dmax: 7.965 cm, W: 22.76 g (Figure 8).

    (2) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre six thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section, the inner ending being slightly flattened, with point shape aspect. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, in vertical position, a point shape decor, varying from one to three dots. A vertical “notch” motif “V”-shaped wide overturned indentation and a median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif, decorate the outer ending of the applique. The object is ended by a fragment of wire, with rectangular shape, continued by a leaf-shape part (made of gold foil), decorated with median rib, and also adorned by the same “fake cord” motif. The end of the objects is another fragment of wire, with rectangular sections, twisted as a hook and the ending broken since past times.

    Dmax: 5.096 cm, W: 9.35 g (Figure 9).

    (3) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre six thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, in vertical position, a point shape decor, varying from one to three dots. A vertical “notch” motif “V”-shaped wide overturned indentation and a median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif, decorate the outer ending of the applique. The end of the objects is another fragment of wire, with rectangular sections, broken since past times. Separately, but pertaining to this appliqué, an ending in shape of a leaf (made of gold foil), decorated with a median rib, adorned by the same “fake cord” motif.

    Dmax: 5.227 cm, W: 8.35 g (Figure 10).

    (4) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre seven thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section, the inner ending being slightly flattened, with point shape aspect. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, in vertical position, a point shape decor, varying from one to three dots. A vertical “notch” motif “V”-shaped wide overturned indentation and a median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif, decorate the outer ending of the applique. The end of the objects is another fragment of wire, with rectangular sections, broken since past times.

    Dmax: 5.067 cm, W: 8.27 g (Figure 11).

    (5) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre seven thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, at the beginning of the two registers, in vertical position, a point shape decor, continued by five points, placed in a cross-like pattern. A median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif, decorates the outer ending of the applique. The object ends with a fragment of wire, with rectangular section, broken in the past, followed by a small fragment of a “leaf”-shape ending, made by gold foil, broken since past times. 

    Dmax: 6.075 cm, W: 15.30 g (Figure 12).

    (6) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre seven thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, at the beginning of the two registers, in vertical position, a point shape decor, continued by five points, placed in a cross-like pattern. A median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif, decorates the outer ending of the applique. The object ends with a fragment of wire, with rectangular section, broken in the past.

    Dmax: 5.90 cm, W: 15.13 g (Figure 13).

    (7) Discoidal applique formed of three wide concentric whirls, made of gold foil, respectively in the centre seven thin concentric whirls, made of gold wire with circular section. The three wide concentric whirls decorated with hatched triangles placed in a line, on four successive registers; above each hatched triangle, at the beginning of the two registers, in vertical position, a point shape decor, continued by five points, placed in a cross-like pattern. The ending is broken since past times, thus are missing, compared to the other similar objects, the outer ending of the applique is decorated by a median rib, adorned by “fake cord” motif.

    Dmax: 54.85 mm, W: 12.68 g (Figure 14).

    (8) Circular link, with circular section, with open tubular endings, thinned and overlapping. Throughout the entire length decorated with fine channels, thus having a grooved aspect.

    Dmax: 2.626 cm, W: 5.03 g.

    (9) Circular link, with circular section, with open tubular endings, thinned and overlapping. Throughout the entire length decorated with fine channels, thus having a grooved aspect. Dmax: 2.778 cm, W: 4.76g.

    (10) Circular link, with circular section, with open tubular endings, thinned and overlapping. Throughout the entire length decorated with fine channels, thus having a grooved aspect.

    Dmax: 2.306 cm, W: 3.83 g (Fig. 15 - 17).

    (11) Necklace made of 239 small hemispherical beads. 

    W (including the fishing line and labels): 23.81 g (Figure 18).