Prehistoric gold source traced to Mourne mountains


THE MOUNTAINS of Mourne may be fabled in song but now they have a new focus as scientists believe they were the source for most of Ireland’s prehistoric gold.

Ireland has a very high level of prehistoric gold objects especially from the early Bronze Age (2400-1800BC) when large quantities of it was used by skilled craftsmen.

They turned out beautiful objects such as the gold collars or lunula similar to the one which turned up recently following a robbery in Co Roscommon.

This led to speculation for centuries about the source of so much easily available gold and a belief there had to be lots of gold available locally to the craftsmen.

Now archaeologists and geologists believe they have found that source, following a 14-year study which used not only the most modern scientific equipment but also involved the teams using primitive gold-mining methods.

According to a report in the current edition of Archaeology Ireland, the scientists used X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to look at the silver content of prehistoric Irish gold in more than 400 objects. As that work was going on, others were literally out panning for gold in Irish rivers, walking the mountains looking for gold in the hills and extracting gold from rocks by fire, as prehistoric people would have done.

The teams even extracted gold from rocks on Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo, by heating and quenching the rock, crushing it and panning the resultant sand.

The scientific work found the average silver content of gold in the early Bronze Age ornaments was 10 per cent and this matched perfectly the profile of gold taken from the river Bann and its tributaries but not that of gold taken from other Irish sources.

The scientific work on gold recovered from artefacts matched because gold grains from areas of high gold abundance invariably exhibit a distinct compositional signature, said the report.

The authors of the report, Richard Warner, Bob Chapman, Mary Cahill and Norman Moles, said the dearth of of early Bronze Age ornaments from the area itself should not affect their conclusions.

“It is a great satisfaction to be able to suggest, with solid evidence, that the Irish early Bronze Age ornaments were not only made of Irish gold but probably of gold from Co Down’s Mourne Mountains,” it concluded.