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Footprints of Cornish Gold

Footprints of Cornish Gold

Will Coleman

Key findings

  • The 3600-year-old Nebra Sky Disk is now known to be forged from Cornish gold (and Cornish tin)
  • Many other Early Bronze Age artefacts right across Europe are also now being shown to be made from Cornish gold (and/or tin)
  • Contrary to accepted theory, it now seems that early developments Cornish tin streaming, metallurgy and trading practices may have ‘kick-started’ the entire European Bronze Age.


“The oldest concrete depiction of the cosmos yet known from anywhere in the world”, the Nebra Sky Disk is a bronze disk of 30cm diameter inlaid with gold astronomical symbols, estimated to be 3,600 years old, discovered in Nebra, Saxony-Anhallt, Germany. The ‘Footprints of Cornish Gold’ project was triggered by the recent discoveries establishing that the provenance of the gold (and tin) in the Disk is from the Carnon Valley in Cornwall. (Borg et al, 2019). New research is now revealing just how many early Bronze Age artefacts right across Europe are also made from Cornish Gold. In Cornwall, gold placer deposits are almost invariably associated with tin-streaming locations. ‘Project Ancient Tin’ (University of Durham) is now identifying the connections between tin ore sources and Bronze Age tin artefacts right across Europe. The core thesis being explored is that the early BA developments in Cornish tin streaming, metallurgy and trading practices were a critical catalyst in the cultural and technological shifts between the early to middle BA right across north-western Europe.

The ‘Footprints of Cornish Gold’ project is hosted by the Royal Cornwall Museum and will culminate in a high-profile programme of public engagement events to coincide with the ‘Nebra Sky Disk; New Horizons’ exhibition at the British Museum, London. The project is working collaboratively with; Prof Gregor Borg, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg; Dr Ben Roberts and Dr Alan Williams, Project Ancient Tin, University of Durham; Dr Matthew Knight, Ancient Gold, National Museums of Scotland; Dr Simon Timberlake, Cambridge University Archaeological Unit; Andy Jones and team, Cornwall Archaeological Unit; Dr Simon Camm, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter; Dr Courtenay Smale, Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.