A rare piece of Viking gold dating back more than a thousand years was discovered by an amateur with a metal detector in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.
Tom Crawford was pursuing his hobby in farmland in Co Down last year when he found the small but precious ingot, which may have been used as currency during the 9th and 10th centuries. It is one of only a few nuggets known from Ireland, experts said.
Mr Crawford also uncovered a tiny silver ring brooch with unusual floral imprints, probably used for decoration by a man or woman during the Medieval period, a short distance away.
"It is all part of the big jigsaw of the history of this country," he told a Belfast inquest convened to establish if the find was treasure.
He added later: "Every little bit that is found is part of the jigsaw and when I think that I have uncovered a few fields in this country, there are hundreds of thousands of fields throughout Northern Ireland that no metal detector has ever been in so what is lying out there could be all sorts of things. You would need hundreds of metal detectors to go over the fields but a lot of stuff could still be lying there."
The sliver of metal, 86% gold but less than three centimetres long, was found at Brickland in Co Down, a short distance from Loughbrickland which appeared to be the centre of an early Medieval kingdom, National Museums Northern Ireland said. Written records say the Vikings plundered Loughbrickland in 833 AD.
An expert told the inquest the gold may be a direct result of contact between locals and the Scandinavians and noted the nearby regions of Strangford and Carlingford loughs were areas of intense and enduring Viking activity.
Dr Greer Ramsey, curator at Armagh County Museum, said the gold and silver objects were reported to the institution shortly after their discovery in February last year. He said ingots during the Viking period were used as currency measured by weight and often cut into smaller amounts.
"Gold is extremely rare in the Viking period, there are vast quantities of silver....there are very, very few parallels to the ingot," he added. Similar finds had been made in Norwich and Lincolnshire in England and in the Hebrides in Scotland as well as from a crannog (island) in Co Meath in the Republic. He concluded: "It would be my opinion that it does constitute treasure."
Coroner Suzanne Anderson ruled that the brooch and ingot constituted treasure.