Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Ancient gold necklace found in field has a twist in its tale

3,000 year old gold Torc which goes on display at Ulster Museum
3,000 year old gold Torc which goes on display at Ulster Museum

It was almost dismissed as a piece from a car engine.

But this twisted piece of metal is in fact a priceless artefact from prehistoric times.

The torc was dug up in Fermanagh by Ronnie Johnston, who at first thought it was nothing to get excited about.

Now the neckpiece – thought to be the most spectacular single piece of prehistoric gold ever to be discovered in Northern Ireland – has gone on show at Belfast's Ulster Museum.

Mr Johnston found the gold torc using a metal detector in the Corrard area around four years ago.

The amateur treasure hunter thought it was a spring from a car engine until he saw something similar in a magazine.

The item was declared a valuable artefact at a special treasure inquest at the Coroner's Court in Belfast and ultimately purchased by Stormont's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Now it has joined a range of other Bronze Age gold work in the Ulster Museum's Early Peoples gallery.

The rare find weighs 720 grams and is made up of 87% gold, 11% silver and a small amount of copper. It would have been fashionable in Britain, Ireland and France between 1100 and 1300BC

Many mysteries still surround this gold torc. In its present condition the torc could not be worn as it has been deliberately coiled, like a large spring.

The torc was originally meant to form a large circular hoop with two solid connections at each end, to be worn around the neck.

Only one other torc in Ireland has been deliberately coiled before burial, a practice more common in southern Britain.

Some suggest it was buried when the owner died and the coiling was a type of "decommissioning" so that it could not be worn.

Dr Greer Ramsey, curator of National Museums NI, said the torc is the most important object he has had the chance to examine.

"The bits at the end are like a clasp, which lock at the back. Unfortunately, no torc has ever been found on a skeleton, which does not allow us to be certain where on the body it was worn."

But Dr Jim McGreevy, director of collections and interpretation, has another theory.

"It could be that they weren't used for people but used in relation to deities and may have adorned a representation of a god, which would possibly explain the variations in size and weight, and particularly something of that length," he continued.

STORY SO FAR

The gold torc lay buried in a Fermanagh field for thousands of years until Ronnie Johnston found it with a metal detector and dug it up. On finding an object such as the torc, it must be brought to a Coroner's Court if it is over 300 years old. After a treasure hearing was held at the Coroner's Court in Belfast, the torc was sent to London to be examined by the Treasure Valuation Committee of the British Museum. A price was set before it was bought by the Stormont Department of Culture. The item is now on show at the Ulster Museum.

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