M. Cardozo, Joalharia Lusitanian, Conimbriga, vol. 1, Coimbra, 1959, pp. 13-27.
J. M. Soler Garcia, El Tesoro de Villena, Madrid, 1965, p. 53 no. 5, pl. XXIII, 1.
This fine, heavy gold bracelet dates from the dawn of the European Iron Age, around 1000 B.C., and is perhaps the only example of its type to still be in private hands. It was found in Portalegre in Portugal and is of a type known from across the Iberian Peninsula, with another single example from nearby Estremoz in Portugal (The National Archaeological Museum of Madrid, Spain, inv. no. 35651), and the famous group from Villena near Alicante in South East Spain (now in the Museo Arqueológico, Villena). The Villena treasure, discovered in 1963, contained more than nine kilos of gold objects in total, including twenty-eight bracelets, many closely related to the present example.
The various bracelets of this type show related decorative schemes mostly involving longitudinal ridges, lines of raised 'cones' and piercings. The design seems entirely geometric without figural or representational purpose, as are the ridge, cone and pierced designs on the other bracelets of the type.
Iron was just beginning to come into use around 1000 B.C., bringing two huge benefits for the goldsmith. The development of furnaces capable of achieving the high temperatures necessary for iron production also provided the craftsman with the technology to melt larger masses of gold than before. The iron itself could be used to make tools to cut and shape gold that were sharper and more durable than the earlier copper alloy implements. The net result of this leap in technical skills is perfectly shown by this bracelet. It is made from a single piece of gold weighing almost two-thirds of a kilo, and the intricate and regular design was cleanly cut and shaped with a repertoire of sharp metal tools. The starting point for the bracelet was a cast rod or plate of gold, possibly plain, possibly with the basic contours of the ridges cast in. This was then shaped, cut and pierced with sharp iron tools, the marks of which can clearly be seen under magnification. The work was carried out with great skill and precision. The similarities between this bracelet and those from Villena and Estremoz raise the question as to place of production and whether there was just one workshop responsible.
The gold itself is of high purity as can be seen by its colour. High purity meant that the gold was sufficiently soft and malleable to be shaped. Analysis of the similar bracelets from Villena revealed that the majority were about 90-95 gold, with silver being the only other major element present. This represents around 22 to 23 carats in modern terms. The Iberian peninsula has various sources of gold and we can perhaps assume a local source for the gold used here, which was used as found, with neither refining nor alloying.