A rare piece of Viking gold dating back more than a millennium was discovered by an amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector in Northern Ireland.
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 ninth and 10th centuries. It is one of only a few nuggets known from Ireland, experts said.
A short distance away, 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.
"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 covered a few fields in this country and 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 833AD. 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. Mr Crawford said he had found some six one pence coins before during 15 years of pursuing his hobby.
But most of the time he recovered bottle tops and bits of junk.
When he uncovered the ingot he initially thought it was a piece of metal from soldering.
"I found a scrap piece of metal, I later found out it was a gold piece," he explained.
He added: "When you do find something it gives you a bit of enthusiasm to go on and look for more."
He told coroner Suzanne Anderson how he had hunted for metal as a part-time hobby after retiring.
"It is exciting when you find something that you think could be old.
"There is always a lot of history behind the things, especially if you find a coin and see the figure and you can identify what year it is," he said.
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 that 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 Irish Republic.
Coroner Anderson ruled that the brooch and ingot constituted treasure.
The delicate brooch is 14 millimetres in diameter and was found at Legananny, Co Down. It dates from the late medieval period (13th-14th century). There are around 140 examples found in Ireland linked to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century. Similar finds have been made in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, and Norfolk in England. The brooch at Legananny was 95% silver.