Archaeologists in the United Kingdom have found fascinating new evidence that there may have been an ancient gold trade route between Ireland and the southwestern corner of England. According to the Statesman, gold may have been flowing between the two regions as far back as 2500 B.C.
Researchers used an advanced technique called laser ablation mass spectrometry to analyze samples from over 50 gold artifacts dating back to the early Bronze Age. They measured the levels of lead isotopes in tiny bits of gold artifacts collected by the National Museum of Ireland and compared them with samples from gold deposits all over the U.K. They found that many of the Irish artifacts were made with gold that had a profile almost identical to deposits in Cornwall, all the way in the southwest corner of Britain.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Chris Standish of the University of Southampton called the discovery “an unexpected and particularly interesting result as it suggests that Bronze Age gold workers in Ireland were making artifacts out of material sourced from outside of the country.”
Irish gold workers certainly had enough gold of their own to process, as there is well-documented evidence of large-scale exploitation of other metals. So why is it that they needed to import the metal from England? The answer may lie in our current understanding of how these ancient economies used to function.
“It is unlikely that knowledge of how to extract gold did not exist in Ireland,” said Standish. “It is probable that an ‘exotic’ origin was cherished as a key property of gold and was an important reason behind why it was imported for production.”
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, and has changed the way archaeologists and historians study the economies of societies during the Bronze Age.