Ancient Bronze-Age Prosthetic Hand Discovered In Switzerland

Published January 4, 2019

The 3,500-year-old bronze and gold foil hand has baffled archaeologists in what is one of the country's most unique finds from the Bronze Age.

Bronze Age Hand From Switzerland

Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern/Philippe JonerThe bronze hand and other items found at the site in Switzerland.

The notion of a cyborg has been alive in well in human history for millennia, or at least the discovery of a nearly-lifesized bronze cast prosthetic hand suggests.

Originally uncovered in 2017 near Lake Biel in Bern, Switzerland by treasure hunters using metal detectors, the bronze-cast hand was brought to the Bern Archaeological Service for review along with a bronze dagger and rib bone also uncovered at the site of the metal hand.

The one-pound bronze limb features a gold foil cuff around the wrist and an attachment within that reportedly would have allowed the cast to be mounted. Radiocarbon dating was done on the glue attaching the foil to the wrist, placing the artifact from around 1,400 and 1,500 B.C. or the middle Bronze Age.

Bronze Age Metal Hand

Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern/Philippe JonerThe one-pound bronze hand with gold foil.

“We had never seen anything like it,” said Andrea Schaer, head of the Ancient History and Roman Archeology Department at the Bern Archaeological Service of the 3,500-year-old hand. “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.” She posited that the hand could have been a replacement for one he lost while alive, though the prosthetic appeared too delicate to have been for practical use.

Alternatively, the hand could have been on a statue, mounted on a stick like a scepter, or worn as a prosthetic as part of a ritual.

The find encouraged Schaer to lead a team back to the site of its burial for further artifacts. For seven weeks, the team excavated the area which was actually a badly-damaged grave, located on a plateau above Lake Biel near the tiny village of Prêles in Switzerland.

Here they found the bones of a middle-aged man, a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral likely intended to be a hair tie, and fragments of gold foil which matched those on the bronze hand. A broken finger of the bronze hand was also recovered in the grave which suggests that the hand was originally buried with the man.

The discovery is absolutely unique as metal objects in Bronze Age burials are rare. Further, gold is almost never found in Bronze Age burials in Switzerland. The find is believed to certainly be unique in Europe.

“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.”

Next up, check out this Bronze-age discovery of a 3,000-year-old sword that was still sharp. Then, read up on these fascinating facts about Vikings.

Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Silverman, Leah. "Ancient Bronze-Age Prosthetic Hand Discovered In Switzerland.", January 4, 2019, Accessed June 13, 2024.