Archaeologists reveal Cornwall’s prehistoric gold trading route with Ireland

June 10th, 2015

Fresh research by archaeologists illustrates that Cornwall was the setting of a prehistoric gold rush.


Researchers based at the universities of Bristol and Southampton used a new technique in order to determine the level of the chemical composition from some of the earliest gold artefacts in Ireland, which date back as far as 2500 BC.

This fascinating research suggests people were trading gold between the two islands as long ago as the early Bronze Age.

In a paper titled A Non-local Source of Irish Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Gold, published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, the experts raised questions over the extraordinary early Bronze Age gold hoards that have been discovered in Ireland far more frequently than anywhere else in Europe.

The study between the two universities showed the objects were actually made from imported gold from Cornwall, rather than that which might be found in Ireland.

The advanced technique used for the research is known as laser ablation mass spectrometry, whereby the teams sampled gold from early Bronze Age artefacts and measured isotopes of lead against the composition of gold deposits found in an assortment of other locations.

Following detailed analysis, the archaeologists determined that the gold in the objects they tested – 50 early Bronze Age artefacts in the collections of the National Museum of Ireland – most likely originated from Cornwall, as opposed to Ireland. While Cornwall is renowned for being a source of tin, finding gold being exported from the region was surprising for all concerned.

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Image: Giuseppe Milo under Creative Commons.