History

This Ancient Bronze Hand Has Experts Stumped

In 2017, some people exploring with their metal detectors discovered a hand. It sounds like the opening of a horror film, but instead of flesh-and-bone, the hand was made from bronze and gold. It’s missing one of its fingers and is smaller than a real hand. The hollow socket at the wrist implies it might have mounted on something like a scepter or stick. Archaeologists called the discovery “the Hand of Prêles” in honor of the area in Switzerland where it was found. After conducting carbon dating, experts learned it was crafted between 1500 and 1400 B.C.E. This makes it the oldest metal body part ever unearthed.

The story gets stranger. After investigating the area further, archaeologists found a grave containing an adult man’s bones, along with a bronze replication of a fibula, a bronze hair decoration, pieces of gold plate that match the gold on the bronze hand, and the hand’s missing finger. Looters had gone through the grave, and that’s when the bronze hand was most likely removed. The robbers didn’t take it too far away, however. There’s even something beneath the grave: a mysterious stone structure. It has yet to explored further.  

So, archaeologists can say that the bronze hand most likely belonged to the man they found, but they have no idea what it was for or who he was. Did he wear the hand as a prosthetic? The socket suggests otherwise and that the hand may have been used in rituals. If the grave had remained undisturbed, the position of the bronze hand might have made things more clear, but it’s not possible to know for sure how everything was originally arranged. As for the man’s identity, he was clearly important. The presence of gold indicates power.

Experts from Europe say that no other comparable artifact exists, making this bronze hand totally unique. That’s exciting, but it makes drawing any conclusions difficult. Until another similar discovery is uncovered, archaeologists can only speculate about the nature of the mysterious Hand of Prêles.

Featured image by Philippe Joner