Dirty scrap metal turns out to be Viking silver

In April of 2012, David Taylor was helping his brother-in-law Andrew Coulter remove stones from his newly plowed field in Inishargy near Kircubbin, County Down, Northern Ireland, when he spied a muddy piece of metal perched on a rock. Its distorted open ring shape captured David’s interest. He picked the piece up and found it was soft metal which made him think it might be an object worth keeping, perhaps an expensive piece of machinery. When he brought it back home and cleaned it, his wife thought it was just some dirty scrap, an old discarded U-bolt bracket that David should throw in the trash.

David was still intrigued by its shape, however. He thought it might be a bracelet, although he had no idea what period it might date to. He took some pictures of the object and sent them to local museum experts. They recognized it as a Viking arm ring, a very rare discovery in Ireland.

On Monday, September 9th, a Belfast Coroner’s Court inquest officially declared the ring treasure trove. It’s composed of 90% silver with trace quantities of copper and gold and was manufactured between 950 and 1100 A.D. It weighs 45 grams, almost two Viking ounces, and would have been used by the Vikings not just as adornment but also as currency.

The Annals of Ulster note that monasteries and churches in the county were raided by Vikings in the 9th century, and there were constant battles between the Danes, Norse and Ulster kings. By 970 A.D. relations between the Vikings and native Irish had stabilized, however archaeologists speculate that the arm ring did not originate in the area, but rather in Shetland or the Orkneys where there were large Viking colonies. Not that there weren’t Viking settlements in Ireland. Dublin was awash with them, and in Northern Ireland there were notable ones at Ballyholme near Bangor and at and Strangford village, both in County Down.

John Sheehan, archaeologist from University College Cork, told coroner Suzanne Anderson that the field where the ring was found lay close to the remains of a medieval church.

He explained that religious sites were often used as a storage place for valuable items.

With clashes between Viking settlers and native Irish commonplace, the expert suggested the ring may have been taken out of Scandinavian hands.

“Maybe it fell into Irish hands and as a result of that ended up deposited for safe-keeping at a church site but then got lost,” he said.

The arm ring will now be assessed for market value by the UK Treasure Valuation Committee, comprised of experts from the British Museum and other institutions. Once a fair monetary value is assessed, the closest local museum, in this case the Ulster Museum, will be given the opportunity to purchase the piece. The money will be divided 50/50 between the finder, David Taylor, and the landowner, his brother-in-law Andrew Coulter. David is hoping the Ulster Museum acquires the arm ring because he thinks it’s important that the rare discovery remain in the place where it was found. That’s what makes it so rare.