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The four gold rings recovered from County Donegal, Ireland.

Farmer in Ireland Unearths Golden Objects from the Bronze Age


The BBC has reported that a farmer in Ireland has discovered a treasure trove of golden rings. The find was made in County Donegal and it was unearthed entirely by accident. It is believed that it could be several thousand years old and is one of the most exciting archaeological finds in recent years in the country.  Now investigators from the National Museum of Ireland are trying to determine the exact nature of the golden objects that were uncovered.

Farmer Makes an Historic Discovery

The farmer, Norman Witherow, uncovered the gold objects when he was digging a drain in a field, somewhere in the townland of Convoy, the exact location has not been disclosed.  Mr. Witherow dug up the hoard which was buried under several feet of earth.  At first, the farmer was underwhelmed by his find, as each ring was coated in clay and he had no idea of what the objects were made of. So, he placed the find in the boot of his car and took them to a jeweler, who told him that they could be of historic interest.

The farmer then took the objects to local officials in the Donegal County Museum who instantly knew that the rings were something very special. They immediately notified the National Museum of Ireland who sent investigators to examine the rings.  According to the Irish Independent, Maeve Sikora, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has praised the farmer for turning in the find to the authorities. In the past many locals who discovered artifacts of archaeological interest had kept them and not alerted the local councils, which is required by Irish law.

The four gold artifacts have diameters of almost 10 cm (4 inches). (© National Museum of Ireland)

The four gold artifacts have diameters of almost 10 cm (4 inches). (© National Museum of Ireland)

Uncommon Golden Objects

Experts from the National Museum of Ireland have conducted a preliminary examination of the find. Their provisional observations have led them to date the gold rings as being from the Bronze Age.  Experts believe that the find could date to the Late Bronze Age, approximately 1250 to 500 BC. The Irish Independent, reports that researchers believe that ‘the deposition of hoards of objects is a characteristic of the late Bronze Age in Ireland’. The experts also have established that the rings are made of a gold alloy. The objects have now been taken back to Dublin for further examination.  The site of the find is also being examined so that investigators can establish the context of their burial to provide additional insights into the discovery.

Bronze Age Deposits in Ireland

Ireland has a rich Bronze Age heritage and it is not unusual for artifacts from the period to be unearthed, such as the golden ornament discovered in 2014 in Roscommon. However, the condition of the golden rings is remarkable, and they are not like anything else found previously in the country. The Donegal find could be one of the most significant Bronze Age discoveries since the mid-nineteenth century.

The four gold artifacts with measurement guide. (© National Museum of Ireland)

The four gold artifacts with measurement guide. (© National Museum of Ireland)

The nature of the golden rings is a matter of conjecture at the moment. They would appear, at first glance, to be some form of ornament most likely bracelets. However, the BBC reports that the assistant curator of the Donegal County Museum, has stated, "I personally don't think they are bracelets - they wouldn't even fit up my arm."  This has led to speculation that the golden rings were possibly some form of currency and this is exciting experts on the Bronze Age.  This would indicate that societies in the period were much more advanced than thought.

After the items have been thoroughly examined and cleaned they are expected to be put on display at the National Museum of Ireland. The farmer who unearthed the golden objects hopes to visit the museum and view his findings, which are now the property of the Irish state. The Donegal Museum hopes to apply to have the rings returned to the county for an exhibition. 

The find is important in itself and demonstrates the wealth and sophisticated culture of prehistoric Ireland. However, if the golden rings can be determined to be a form of currency then this could revolutionize our understanding of the period.  All of this because of a chance find by a farmer digging a drainage ditch.

Top image: The four gold rings recovered from County Donegal, Ireland. Source: Caroline Carr, Donegal County Museum.

By Ed Whelan



Opps. If 10mm diameter (looks to be this) and 300mm length, then the weight would be 267 grams. This is 1/100th of a talent weight (around 30 kg, 27-33kgs were used depending on city state). This is an unusual fraction it would normally be divided by sixty, the only people I know divided in 1/100th were MInoan and this was for internal transaction, they used whatever units the host port used when trading. This is too later to be MInoan, may have been PHoenician that might have used similar weights to the MInoans, say exhanging this for tin from iberia and then exchanged for say amber or maybe flax in Ireland. Bullion being highly exchangable as it is today.

Lovely! I'll take two:)

It would be interesting to know what the alloy is? Silver for Electrum and source of origin? Metal was used as a form of currency at this time and I note there are likely to be trade links with Iberia and Phoenicia. This doesn't preclude locally panned gold sources, but the impurities may indicate where these items originated, that would be useful to know. The objects are clearly not finely worked as jewellery, the simple loop suggests a simple method of securing to ones person for exchange (that may indicate they were used by a merchant in exchange you locally produced goods or services. The weight of each item could be telling. They seem to be 8mm diameter by 30cms (1 foot), so 15cc (Gold 11.34g/cm3) = 171 grams each. Or 3 mina (3/60 talents or 1/20th) or around 0.38 pound.
Someone that know iron age weights and measures may be able to give better insight, I'm not sure if the celts used talents, it is a system used around the med ?

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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