Irish farmer finds prehistoric gold digging a drain

A farmer in Ireland has discovered four solid gold bracelets dating to at least as far back as the Bronze Age. A mechanical digger operator hired by farmer Norman Witherow was digging a drain in a field near Convoy, County Donegal, on Saturday, June 23rd, when he found four ring-shaped object encrusted with thick clay. They were about two feet beneath the surface, hidden under a rock that had thankfully protected them from being damaged by the digger.

Witherow, not having any idea what they were other than that their shape and size suggested they might be bracelets, took them home and rinsed them off in his kitchen. They were gold in color, but he couldn’t tell if they were made of gold or copper or another yellow metal. The tubular shapes had a smooth surface and looped around, the closed terminal ends overlapping each other. Witherow put them on a scale and found they weighed 1.7 ounces.

He showed the pieces to a friend in the jewelry business and she responded with enthusiasm that they were something special and should be reported to the authorities. Witherow called the Donegal County Museum and reported the find to Assistant Curator Caroline Carr. She did an initial examination of the find site and on Tuesday, June 26th, called the National Museum of Ireland. The next day Maeve Sikora, the museum’s Keeper of Irish Antiquities, met Witherow in Dublin and took possession of the bracelets. National Museum experts also surveyed the find site for evidence of how, when and potentially why the objects were deposited.

Sikora’s initial examination of the gold objects suggests they may be from the Bronze Age (2500-500 B.C.), but they could be even older. As far as their use, they could be jewelry — bracelets, arm bands — but they could also have been used as a form of currency. It’s all hypothetical at this early stage of the investigation.

The National Museum will continue to study them, assess their gold content and seek more information about their origin and deposition. It is keen, however, to put them on display as quickly as possible, so expect some (maybe even all) to be on view as soon as the initial analyses are completed. The research will proceed after they’re on display.


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Comment by Norman
2018-07-02 00:51:52

Based on another photograph at the museum’s website ( and approximating each ring as a torus (major radius=4.5cm, minor radius=0.5cm) one can calculate an estimate for the volume of each ring as 22 cubic centimeters. Each ring has substantial overlap, so multiply by 5 instead of four to give 110 cubic centimeters for the total volume. The density of gold is 19gm/cm^3, giving a weight close to two kilograms. If these rings actually only weigh 1.7 ounces then they aren’t gold!

Comment by George M.
2018-07-02 01:56:40

I find it interesting that the objects are tubular with cylindrical ends apparently soldered over the open end of the tubes. It is not that easy to draw seamless tubes and I am not sure if that level of metal working was possible in the bronze age.

Also, the fact that they are not solid argues against the idea that they could easily be used for currency because when metal rings are used in this way pieces are usually cut off the ends for a particular transaction.

Comment by Ant Werp
2018-07-02 03:53:02

Wait :eek: , the “four solid gold bracelets dating to at least as far back as the Bronze Age that the farmer in Ireland has discovered” are not at all solid?!? …and… ‘cylindrical ends’ were soldered over the open tube ends?

My personal wild theory: What if those solid gold bracelets were in fact ‘solid’, and the unbent cylindrical ends are simply a result of the ‘bending’ or ‘forge-bending’ process applied to cast cylinders?

For the cylinders, take a bit if clay, a stick and a kiln. Then put the clay onto fresh one and and put molten gold into the hole. When hardened enough, take another piece of wood and hammer free the gold from the clay mold (w/o destroying it).

You have: 1.7Gold
You want: USD
1.7Gold = 2130.1 USD

You have: 1.7/4 oz
You want: g
1 / (1.7/4 oz) = 66.70476 g

Comment by Rich W.
2018-07-02 09:42:32

I question the weight given in the article.
Looking at the video and comparing the size of the items to the table they are resting on, I think the weight is more likely 1.7 pounds. If indeed the weight was 1.7 ounces either troy or common, the thickness of the “tubular” walls would be so thin they would be little more than foil. To survive for 2-3 thousand years underground without being mangled is far fetched.

Comment by George M.
2018-07-02 11:39:22

I suspect that Rich W. is correct. Someone used “tubular,” meaning “hollow” when they shouldn’t have. As far as I can tell from the video and photos the ends look solid with no evidence of solder or other joining of a cap on the ends of the “tubes.” Also, as mentioned by Ant Werp 1.7 ounces seems VERY light for four objects of this size made of a high density metal like gold. I could maybe believe 1.7 troy ounces for one bracelet but not as a total for all of them.

Finally, even if you were able to cast a long enough tube around a combustible core it is pretty tricky bending the straight tube into a fairly small radius curve like these without collapsing the walls.

Comment by Ant Werp
2018-07-02 11:55:43

Indeed, there seems to be a bit of a scaling issue: With a cylinder radius of 0.5cm and a height of 30cm, the volume of one spiral would be pi*0.5*cm^2*30*cm = 47.12389 cm^3.

Now, with 19.302 g/cm^3, the weight of one of these -massive- gold spirals would be 909.585g or 32.084667 oz, or 2.0052917 lbs, so maybe even a bit more than your 1.7 pounds.

Moreover, 2.0052917 lbs*Gold/oz = 40202.088 USD. Thus, let’s rather assume a (Bronze Age) “gold bronze”, in this case :p

Comment by Maria H
2018-07-03 02:20:58

They seem very regular in shape to me, at least as far as the gauge of the wire itself. I’m assuming they are not hollow as there’s no apparent seam. They’re so smooth, they must have been drawn to size but were there drawplates at that time? I know drawplates show up a bit later but just not sufficiently aware of Bronze Age jewelers techniques. I thought mostly molded though.

Comment by Norman
2018-07-03 14:53:48

Here is a nice article on the production of gold wire in antiquity:

Comment by Maria H
2018-07-04 00:45:36

Thanks Norman!

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