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Archaeologists Discovered a 3,500-Year-Old Prosthetic Hand in Switzerland

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In 2017 in Switzerland, near Lake Biel in Bern, treasure hunters using metal detectors discovered what could be a prosthetic hand and the oldest bronze sculpture found in Europe. A bronze dagger and rib bone was also found. The hunters delivered their find to the Bern Archaeological Service for review.

The prosthetic hand weighs about one-pound and has a gold foil cuff around the wrist. The glue attaching the gold foil to the wrist was carbon dated which placed the artificial hand’s origin from around 1,400 and 1,500 B.C. – the middle of the Bronze Age.

“We had never seen anything like it,” Andrea Schaer, head of the Ancient History and Roman Archaeology Department at the Bern Archaeological Service, told National Geographic. “We weren’t sure if it was authentic or not – or even what it was.”

It may have been this man’s insignia,” Schaer continued, “and when he died it was buried with him.” While the researcher theorizes that the hand may have been a replacement for the owner, the prosthetic seems too delicate for daily use. The hand could have been on a statue, mounted on a stick like a scepter or it might have been worn as part of a ritual.

Encouraged by the carbon dating and interested in learning more, Schaer took a team and excavated the area for seven weeks. The site turned out to be the grave of a middle-aged man. Although the grave was badly damaged they found the bones a man, a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral thought to be a hair tie, and fragments of gold foil matching the fingers of the bronze hand. Considering the close proximity of the original find, they supposed the prosthetic hand to have been buried with the man.

Overall, the discovery is unique, since nothing resembling a prosthetic hand has been found from the Bronze Age and metal objects are rarely found in those burial sites, in Switzerland in particular, gold was rarely included in burials.

“The fact that we know of thousands of Bronze Age graves and have never found anything like this shows it’s pretty special,” Stefan Hochuli, head of the Department of Monument Preservation and Archaeology, said. “It gives us a glimpse into the spiritual world of this society – and it’s a lot more complex than we often think.”

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