Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Greek Gold Seized Volume 51 Number 1, January/February 1998
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

An undercover operation by Athens police has yielded one of the most important prehistoric hoards ever found in Greece, a dazzling array of 6,000-year-old gold pendants and appliqués weighing more than eight ounces. Posing as buyers, police arrested two men, Andreas Bittar and Panagiotis Evangelou, who were offering all 54 objects for $3 million. Katie Demakopoulou, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and a specialist in Aegean prehistory, says the jewelry dates to the Final Neolithic period, ca. 4500-3200 B.C., and was looted from tombs or a buried hoard, possibly in northern Greece.

"The collection is significant because it belongs to a very remote period of Greek prehistory, and it's the first time such a large group of Neolithic gold objects has been found in Greece," says Demakopoulou. "It also helps our understanding of the [later] development of metalworking in Greece. We can now better understand the high level of craftsmanship in the third millennium B.C."

Some scholars believe the pendants, also known as ring idols, are abstract representations of the human form; some include raised bumps that have been interpreted as breasts. Similar pendants of gold, silver, terra cotta, stone, bone, and shell have been found in Bulgaria and the Balkans.

One of the pendants recovered in Athens is six inches across, making it the largest ever found in Greece. Researchers will soon conduct tests to determine the purity of the gold. Meanwhile, the jewelry has been turned over to the Archaeological Museum, where it will be displayed.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America