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Locals unearth 'significant' prehistoric hoard of gold bands in Donegal


The prehistoric gold artefacts found in Donegal. Photo: Caroline Carr of the Donegal County Museum

The prehistoric gold artefacts found in Donegal. Photo: Caroline Carr of the Donegal County Museum

The prehistoric gold artefacts found in Donegal. Photo: Caroline Carr of the Donegal County Museum

Experts from the National Museum have begun an investigation into the exciting discovery of four prehistoric gold arm bands they believe date back to the Bronze Age.

The amazingly intact ornaments were found buried together several feet underground at an undisclosed location in Co Donegal earlier this week.

Maeve Sikora, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, credited local Donegal residents for finding the treasures and immediately reporting them to officials at the Donegal County Museum, who in turn alerted them to the find yesterday.

"These people were so helpful and quick to report it," she said.

The hoard is the first to be unearthed here since 2010 when a robbery of a pharmacy safe in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, the previous year lead to the bizarre discovery of 4,000-year-old gold artefacts.

The safe, which was dumped in a skip by the culprits and tracked down by gardaí, contained a crescent-shaped ornament called a lunula that was worn around the neck or chest during ceremonies. Gardaí also uncovered two gold discs the size of teacup saucers that had been stored in the safe since the 1960s by the pharmacy's late owner.

The collection, known as the Coggalbeg Hoard, dates back to 2,300-1,800 BC. It was turned over to the National Museum.

Ms Sikora said it is too early to say which period of the Bronze Age the artefacts belong to.

But they could go back as far as the late Bronze Age in 1,200-500BC, she said.

"It's very significant," she said of the recent find.

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Archaeologists travelled to the site yesterday to retrieve the treasures and will now begin trying to find out how they were buried there and why, she said.

"We're trying to explore the context of which they were buried," Ms Sikora said.

The last major hoard of gold ornaments was found in marshland near a lake in Mooghaun North, Co Clare, in 1854.

The collection, dating back to the late Bronze Age, contained more than 150 objects consisting of mainly gold bracelets, gold collars and two neck rings.

According to the museum, the deposition of hoards of objects is a characteristic of the late Bronze Age in Ireland.

A large number of bronze and gold objects were found over a 70-year period during turf cutting in the Bog of Cullen in Co Tipperary.

The museum believes that the number of "spectacular discoveries" of hoards from bogs suggests the Bronze Age people regarded them as special places.

"Ireland is really rich in Bronze Age artefacts," Ms Sikora said.

But she warned against any amateur detectorists hoping to unearth similar treasures using metal detectors.

For starters, all artefacts found buried are automatically considered State property, she said.

And while gold may well feature as the main alloy in the treasures, they cannot be sold as such and are virtually worthless on the open market.

But for the museum, the find was indeed a valuable discovery.

"The National Museum of Ireland is delighted by the news of this exciting find," said museum director Lynn Scarf.

The artefacts will go on display at the museum after further analysis.

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