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Bronze Age Irish gold wasn’t good enough for Ireland

The people of Bronze Age Ireland were fans of gold, as long as it was originally somebody else’s. Many different decorative objects have been discovered, usually with a sun-oriented motif, and up until now it’s point of origin hadn’t really been investigated. Many pot-fulls of gold lay buried among other mineral deposits in Ireland, and so the most logical source of the gold for these amulets, armbands and neckbands would have been close by to where the pieces were found. The uranium in the gold tells a different story though, and it appears that the early inhabitants of Ireland preferred imported bling more than what came out of their own mines.

The gold in these objects isn’t pure, which is what made this analysis possible, Researchers were able to look at the uranium mixed in the gold, and take stock of how much of it had degraded over time into lead, a measure that is usually used to date ancient materials. The particular ratios of uranium to lead in each sample of gold were distinct enough to act as a signature for each batch of gold. That signature was then compared to gold deposits in Ireland and Europe. Nothing seemed to originate from Ireland, but much of the gold matched the deposits from southwestern England.

Worthy of worship

It’s not completely clear why people were bothering to import a metal that could have been locally sourced. Other metals and minerals were extracted in Ireland at the time, so there probably wasn’t a technological problem preventing the use of Irish gold. This may suggest that the British gold was preferred for some reason other than practicality. Since the gold was usually crafted into designs corresponding with sun worship, there’s a chance that the gold from Ireland’s neighbor to the east carried extra religious significance. Further tracking how it was imported may eventually provide clues about how religious and cultural customs were exchanged in Bronze Age Europe.

Common commodity

Whatever the importance of the gold was, that value doesn’t seem to have been equally appreciated closer to its source. No related artifacts based on the sun have been found in that area. That may have been due to a difference in crafting skills, or possibly just that the mining communities of southwestern England and Wales only saw the gold as a commodity for trade.

Source: People in Ancient Ireland Preferred Britain's 'Magical' Gold To Their Own by Elizabeth Goldbaum, Live Science

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