A team of archaeologists has stumbled across a rather peculiar finding: it seems that Irish artefact craftsmen preferred British gold to Irish gold, believed to have been brought in via a gold trading route passing through Devon, Cornwall and Ireland.
Researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Bristol have analyzed over 50 Bronze Age artefacts and cross-referenced the gold in their composition with Irish gold samples.
“This is an unexpected and particularly interesting result as it suggests that Bronze Age gold workers in Ireland were making artefacts out of material sourced from outside of the country,” lead author Chris Standish explains.
Experts explain that over 440 pounds of gold would have traveled along this ancient trading route and that, by today’s standards, this gold would have been worth some $7.6 billion. Curiously though, Ireland is a country rich in easily accessible gold deposits and the Irish are no strangers to gold extraction.
Dr. Standish notes that the Bronze Age Irish population most likely possessed the necessary knowledge required to efficiently extract gold, especially since archaeologists have sufficient evidence pointing towards large-scale exploitation of other types of metals.
The team of researchers proceeded to analyzing 50 Irish Early Bronze Age and Chalcolithic artefacts currently belonging to the Natural Museum of Ireland’s collections. With the help of laser ablation mass spectrometry, they attempted to isolate the lead isotopes found in the artefact’s composition. They then compared those results with the composition of typical Irish gold deposits.
Though unexpected, the conclusion was that the gold in the analyzed objects did not originate in Ireland but in the United Kingdom.
According to Dr. Standish, gold trading may have turned British gold into somewhat of an “exotic” material and it may be precisely because of this that Irish manufacturers chose this material over Irish gold.
Another interesting aspect that the researchers uncovered was the fact that gold was leaving Cornwall- most likely because miners traded it in for other necessary goods. This reveals that gold may have not always carried the same value as it does today.
Whereas nowadays, this precious metal is automatically linked to economic wealth, in the Bronze Age, some societies may have considered it the bearer of supernatural or magical powers. As dr. Alistair Pike, co-author of the study explains, the team’s findings show that gold did not always carry a universal value.
Perhaps, during those times, prehistoric economies, he adds, revolved around specific belief systems which added more complexity to mundane commodity trading.
The team’s results were published in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.
Image Source: claddaghdesign
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