Technological characterisation of early Medieval gilded copper hollow pendants (gombiky), from Mikulčice (Moravia) and Prague Castle (Bohemia)


Gilded copper hollow spherical pendants known as gombiky (s. gombik) were examined to identify the technology of gilding and the material chosen as the substrate. The examined ornaments dating from the ninth and tenth centuries AD were recovered from elite graves of two major political, ecclesiastical and economic centres of the Early Medieval period located in the territory of the present-day Czech Republic: Mikulčice and Prague Castle, major sites of Moravia and Bohemia, respectively. Taking into account the state of degradation and possible bias due to earlier restorations, surface and bulk characterisation of the gilded material has been performed combining optical observation, X-ray radiography, metallography, scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive spectrometry (SEM/EDS analysis) and focused ion beam (FIB) milling mounted on FEG-SEM. The manufacturing procedure was reproduced by experimental archaeology. A detailed investigation of the gilded artefacts revealed several types of gombik construction involving different mounted elements, including the main body parts and the suspension system elements joined by hard soldering. The different constitutive parts are made with almost pure copper or low-purity copper. The systematic use of fire gilding (mercury amalgam gilding) was documented. Differences in the materials that were used and technical quality show the coexistence of finely produced objects by highly skilled and knowledgeable jewellers alongside more coarsely manufactured imitations. These variations are discussed in terms of different workshops in a possible relationship with their origin of manufacture.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13


  1. Anheuser K (1997) The Practise and characterization of historic fire gilding techniques. JOM 49(11):58–62

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Barčáková L (2014) Výroba raně středověkého šperku naleziště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě, In: Castrum Pragense 12, Pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě, Díl II. Studie, J. Frolík a kolektiv: 311–418.

  3. Barčáková L, Ottenwelter E, Frolík J (2014) Zhotovení Repliky Stříbrných gombíků z raně středověkého pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě In: Archaeologia historica 39. Brno 2014–1:273–283

  4. Boháčová I, Profantová N (2014) Bohemia and Great Moravia-archaeological evidence In: Great Moravia and the beginnings of Christianity, ed. Pavel Kouřil, Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Brno: 143–154

  5. Blakelock ES (2016) Never judge a gold object by its surface analysis: a study of surface phenomena in a selection of gold objects from the Staffordshire hoard. Archeometry 58(6):912–929

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bühler B (2011) Is it Byzantine metalwork or not? Evidence for Byzantine craftsmanship outside the Byzantine Empire (6th to 9th centuries AD) In: Daim, F. & Drauschke, J. (Eds.) Byzanz - Das Römerreich im Mittelalter. Teil 1. Welt der Ideen, Welt der Dinge, Mainz 2011, 84(1):213-234

  7. Čáp P, Macháček J, Špaček J (2011) Tajemství výroby velkomoravského šperku. Archeologický experiment, Praha

    Google Scholar 

  8. Chiavari C, Bernardi E, Balbo A, Monticelli C, Raffo S, Bignozzi MC et al (2015) Atmospheric corrosion of fire-gilded bronze: corrosion and corrosion protection during accelerated ageing tests. Corros. Sci. 100:435–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Chorvátová H (2008a) Gombíky s tepanou výzdobou, Zborník Slovenského národného múzea, C 11. Archeológia:153–170

  10. Chorvátová H (2008) K problému terminológie a interpretácie guĺovitých príveskov – veĺkomoravských gombíkov. (On the problem of the terminology and interpretation of spherical pendants great Moravian gombiky). Studia mediaevalia Pragensia 8:209–218

    Google Scholar 

  11. Chorvátová H (2009) Kultúrno-historický význam gombíkov. Studia mediaevalia Bohemica 1(2009):7–19

    Google Scholar 

  12. Chorvátová H (2018) Schmuckkolektionen an der mittleren Donau. In: E. Nowotny, M. Obenaus (Hrsg.): 50 Jahre Archäologie in Thunau am Kamp. Festschrift für Herwig Friesinger. Neue Folge, Band 5. Krems: 125–137.

  13. Daim F (Ed.) (2000) Die Awaren am Rand der byzantinischen Welt. Studien zu Diplomatie, Handel und Technologietransfer im Frühmittelalter (The Avars on the border of the Byzantine world, diplomacy, Trade and the transfer of Technology in the Early Middle Ages) Innsbruck 2000.

  14. Darque-Ceretti E, Aucouturier M (2013) Gilding for matter decoration and sublimation. A brief history of the artisanal technical know-how. Int. J. Conserv. Sci. 4(2013):647–660

    Google Scholar 

  15. Dostál B (1966) Slovanská pohřebiště ze střední doby hradištní na Moravě. Academia, Praha

    Google Scholar 

  16. Eichert S (2018) Griffons and birds. Mediterranean motifs on early medieval enamelled disc brooches In: Lebenswelten zwischen Archäologie und Geschichte: Festschrift für Falko Daim zu seinem 65. Geburtstag / Mainz: Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, band 150:113–122

  17. Frolík J, Smetánka Z (2014) Pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě, Díl I. Katalog, Castrum Pragense 12, Praha 2014.

  18. Frolík J (2014) Pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě, Analýza, chronologie, význam in: Castrum Pragense 12, Pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě, Díl II. Studie, J. Frolík a kolektiv: 5–116

  19. Frolíková D, Ottenwelter E, Barčáková L (in press) Child burial with a kaptorga-amulet container from the Triangle cemetery in Prague-Střešovice

  20. Galuška L (2013) Hledání původu od avarských bronzů ke zlatu Velké Moravy, Search for the origin from Avars bronze items Great Moravian gold, Moravské zemské muzeum 2013.

  21. Galuška L (2014) Jewellery and jewellery making in Great Moravia. In: Kouřil P (ed) Great Moravia and the beginnings of Christianity. The Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno: 132–142

  22. Goldstein JI, Newbury DE, Echlin P, Joy DC, Lyman CE, Lifshin E, Sawyer L, Michael JR (2003) Scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microanalysis, 3rd edn. Springer, New York

    Google Scholar 

  23. Hasil J, Ottenwelter E, Barčáková L (2019) Dubious early medieval jewels from Matzhausen (Bavaria): new material and technological investigations. Stud. in Conserv. online.

  24. Hauptmann A, Klein S, 2016 Golden artifacts from the royal tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia In: Metalla Nr.22.1, Bochum, Fig.2, 86.

  25. Hrubý V (1955) Staré Město – velkomoravské pohřebiště,, Na valách. Nakladatelství československé Akademie věd, Praha

    Google Scholar 

  26. Ingo GM, Riccucci C, Lavorgna M, Salzano de Luna M, Pascucci M, Di Carlo G (2016) Surface investigation of naturally corroded gilded copper-based objects. Appl. Surf. Sci. 387:244–251

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Ingo GM, Riccucci C, Pascucci M, Messina E, Giuliani C, Biocca P, Tortora L, Fierro G, Di Carlo G (2018) Combined use of FE-SEM+ EDS, ToF-SIMS, XPS, XRD and OM for the study of ancient gilded artefacts. Appl. Surf. Sci. 446:168–176

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Johnson D, Kearns S, Grady MM (2012) Subsurface analysis by application of FIB-SEM to sample of geological and historical importance. In: Meeks N, Cartwright C, Meek A, Mongiatti A (eds) Historical technology, materials and conservation, SEM and microanalysis. Archetype publications, London: 56–68

  29. Kavánová B (2009) Zlaté Gombíky z Mikulčic-spektrometrická analýza In: Archaeologia mediaevalis Moravica et Silesiana, Supplementum 2 (eds) P. Dresler, Z. Měřínský, Archeologie doby hradištní v České a Slovenské republice, Sborník příspěvků přednesených na pracovním setkání Archeologie doby hradištní ve dnech 24.-26.4.2006, Masarykova Univerzita, Brno 127–134

  30. Kalhous D (2012) Anatomy of a Duchy. The political and ecclesiastical structures of early Přemyslid Bohemia. 1. vyd. Leiden - Boston: Brill, 2012. 350 s. East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. ISBN 978-90-04-22980-8.

  31. Kalhous D (2018) Building and organising central places and fortifications as a manifestation of princely power in early Medieval Europe, in Moravian and Silesian Strongholds of the tenth and eleventh centuries in the context of Central Europe, ed. P. Kouřil - R. Procházka, Spisy Archeologického ústavu AV ČR Brno, 57, Brno: ArÚ, 17–23

  32. Klanica Z (1970) Velkomoravský gombík. Archeologické rozhledy XXII:421–446

    Google Scholar 

  33. Klanica Z (2006) Prušánky, Nechvalín. Čtyři slovanská pohřebiště. I. díl. Brno: Archeologický ústav AV ČR, Brno.

  34. Klanica Z, Kavánová B, Kouřil P (2019) Mikulčice. Die nekropole an der dreischiffigen basilika, Archeologický ústav AVČR, Brno, v.v.i .

  35. Kouřil P (ed) (2014) Great Moravia and the beginnings of Christianity, The Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Brno.

  36. Krupičková Š (in press) Gombíky: The unique symbols of the Great Moravian elites. In: Poláček L (ed) Great Moravian Elites. The Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, Brno, Brno

  37. Krupičková Š, Ottenwelter E, Březinová H (2019) Exact evidences of the use of spherical buttons (gombiky): two case studies from Moravian finds, Přehled výzkumů 60-2. Brno 2019:57–77

    Google Scholar 

  38. Northover P., Anheuser K (2000) Gilding in Britain: Celtic, Roman and Saxon In: Gilded metals, history, technology and conservation, Terry Drayman-Weisser (eds), Archetype Publication: 109–121

  39. Macháček J, Dresler P, Přichystalová R, Sládek V (2016) Břeclav-Pohansko VII. Kostelní pohřebiště na Severovýchodním předhradí. Masarykova univerzita, Brno

    Google Scholar 

  40. Macháček J, Wihoda M (2019) The fall of Great Moravia. Who was buried in Grave No. 153 in Pohansko-Břeclav ? In: East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, Volume 54, ed. Brill.

  41. Masi G, Chiavari C, Avila J, Esvan J, Raffo S, Bignozzi MC, Asensio MC, Robbiola L, Martini C (2016) Corrosion investigation of fire-gilded bronze involving high surface resolution spectroscopic imaging. Appl. Surf. Sci. 66:317–327

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Masi G, Esvan J, Josse C, Chiavari C, Bernadi E, Martini C, Bignozzi MC, Gartner N, Kosec T, Robbiola L (2017) Characterization of typical patinas simulating bronze corrosion in outdoor conditions. Mater. Chem. Phys. 200:308–321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Oddy A, La Niece S (1986) Byzantine gold coins and jewellery, a study of gold contents. Gold Bulletin 19(1):19–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Oddy A (1993) Gilding of metals in the Old world In: Metal Plating and Patination. In: La Niece S, Craddock P (eds) Cultural, technical and historical developments: 171–192

  45. Ottenwelter E, Děd J, Barčáková L (2014) Technical study of jewellery from the Lumbe Garden cemetery at Prague Castle In: Castrum Pragense 12, Pohřebiště v Lumbeho zahradě na Pražském hradě, Díl II. Studie, J. Frolík a kolektiv: 163–287

  46. Ottenwelter E (2016) Re-restoration of metal grave goods from the Early Medieval cemetery of Lumbe Garden at Prague Castle In: Čištění kovů, Technické museum v Brně: 40–49

  47. Ottenwelter E, Děd J, Barčáková L (2017) Early Medieval gombiky from the Lumbe Garden cemetery, Prague Castle. Materials and Manufacturing processes 32(7-8):836–849

  48. Pavlovičová E (1996) K vypovedacej schopnosti gombíka u naddunajských Slovanov. Slovenská archeológia XLIV(1):95–153

    Google Scholar 

  49. Poláček L (2017) The Mikulčice-Valy Stronghold and Great Moravia. The Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, Brno, Brno

    Google Scholar 

  50. Profantová N, Frána J (2003) Přispěvěk ke studiu šperkařstvi v raném středověku v Čechách a na Moravě. Archeologické rozhledy 55:47–58

    Google Scholar 

  51. Robbiola L, Portier R (2006) A global approach to the authentication of ancient bronzes based on the characterization of the alloy–patina–environment system. J. Cult. Heritage 7:1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Smetánka Z, Štverák B (1992) X-ray fluorescent analysis of gold and gilded jewels from the cemetery in Lumbe´s gardens at Prague Castle, preliminary report. Archeologické rozhledy XLIV, Praha

    Google Scholar 

  53. Smetánka Z, Staňa Č (1996) Velká Morava a Praha (rentgenfluorescenční analýza zlatých šperků z Velké Moravy a jejich vztah k Pražskému hradu)

  54. Scott DA (1991) Metallography and microsctructure of ancient and historic metals. The Getty Conservation Institute, The JPaul. Getty Museum in association with Archetype Books, Singapour

    Google Scholar 

  55. Třeštík D (2001) 2001: Vznik Velké Moravy. Moravané, Čechové a střední Evropa v letech. NLN, Praha: 791–871

  56. Štefan I (2019) Great Moravia, the beginnings of Přemyslid Bohemia and the problem of cultural change. In: The fall of Great Moravia, who was buried in grave H 153 at Pohansko near Břeclav? East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, vol 54. Brill, Leiden, pp 450–1450 chapter 7:151–186

  57. Ungerman Š (2011) Tzv. blatnicko-mikulčický horizont a jeho vliv na chronologii raného středověku. Zborník Slovenského národného múzea, Archaeologia supplementum 4:135–151

  58. Ungerman Š (2018) Vznik honosného velkomoravského šperku. Stav výzkumu a jeho perspektivy, in Inspiracje i funkcje sztuki pradziejowej i wczesnośredniowiecznej, red. Bogusław Gediga, Anna Grossman, Wojciech Piotrowski, Biskupin–Wrocław 2018: 509–534

  59. Untracht O (1982) Jewelry, concept and technology. Robert Hale, London

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Ing. D. Janová from the Department of Structure and Phase Analyses (Faculty of Mechanical Engineering VUT in Brno) is warmly thanked for performing the SEM/EDS analysis. We also wish to thank G. Plítková, L. Zahradníková and J. Hošek, who compiled the technical drawings for better visualisation of the final construction of each type of gombiky.


This research was supported by two grant projects from the Czech Science Foundation (GACR) – No. 405/12/2195 (burial group in Prague Castle’s Lumbe Garden: analysis of jewellery and grave goods dated to the beginnings of Prague Castle) and No. 17-01879S (lifestyle and identity of the Great Moravian nobility: archaeological and bio-archaeological analysis of evidence of Mikulčice’s uppermost elites)—and institutional support (RVO: 67985912 – the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, Prague, and RVO 68081758 – the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology, Brno).

Author information



Corresponding authors

Correspondence to E. Ottenwelter or L. Robbiola.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 27.5 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ottenwelter, E., Barčáková, L., Josse, C. et al. Technological characterisation of early Medieval gilded copper hollow pendants (gombiky), from Mikulčice (Moravia) and Prague Castle (Bohemia). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 145 (2020).

Download citation


  • Fire gilding
  • Hard soldering
  • Jewellery
  • Gombik
  • Manufacturing process
  • Metallography