The National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology and History) has a large collection of Irish Bronze Age goldwork (2200BC and 500BC). Gold lunulae such as the one on the left were typical moon-shaped Irish necklaces of this period.

The early Irish clearly had access to gold - the problem was no one knew where it came from. Then from 1795- 1800, an Irish gold rush ensued in County Wicklow after a sharp-eyed local schoolmaster discovered gold in the Aughatinavought river. Just like leprechaun gold, this source soon vanished. Attempts to find the mother lode failed for over two centuries.

The mystery of the disappearing gold has recently been solved by modern day scientists who study the microchemical composition of gold. Gold is often alloyed with small particles of other metals such as silver. This chemical signature determines the uniqueness of a particular gold vein. The researchers found that the best match of the Bronze age goldwork is with gold found in a recent exploratory mine in Croagh Patrick on the west coast.

But the Bronze age Irish did not have to mine for their gold. In their time, a rich gold vein was exposed, weathered and gold nuggets were easy pickings. During the last ice age, all that became buried with glacial deposits. The Irish Gold Rush occured when the river revealed a residue. The scientists believe that the gold source has long since eroded away.

Picture Source


Gail Vines. "The Hunt for the Wicklow Gold" New Scientist, 27 January 2007.
In Search of Irish Gold
Application of microchemical characterization of gold to archaeological studies

National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology and History

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