Ulster Museum displays 3,000-year-old Bronze Age torc

By Sarah Jackson | 23 July 2013

One of the most spectacular items of prehistoric gold jewellery found in Ireland has gone on display at Ulster Museum, after being initially identified as a car spring.

A photo of a man holding a gold torc
© William Cherry / Presseye
The 3,000-year-old golden torc was found by local man Ronnie Johnston in boggy ground at Corrard, Co Fermanagh in 2009.

It was subsequently declared a valuable artefact at a Treasure Inquest at Northern Ireland Coroner’s Court and acquired by National Museums Northern Ireland.

“We are delighted that this beautiful piece of ancient jewellery, of which there are only nine other examples from Ireland, can now be enjoyed by visitors to the Ulster Museum," said Dr Jim McGreevy, the Director of Collections and Interpretation at National Museum Northern Ireland.

The rare piece weighs 720 grams and is approximately 87% gold, 11% silver and 2% copper. Its design would have been fashionable in Britain, Ireland and France between 1300-1100BC.

Torcs have been closely associated with the Celtic people of Bronze Age Europe since at least Roman times, when figures were often identified as Celtic in sculpture and paintings by the torcs they wore.

Made by smiths who expertly twisted the metal into a ribbon-like appearance (which gives the object its name, from the Latin torqueo, ‘to twist’), torcs were worn around the neck, waist, arm or breast.

However, a mystery surrounds the Ulster torc. In its present condition it could not have been worn anywhere on the body as it has been deliberately coiled like a spring.

The torc’s original design would have been as a large circular hoop with two solid terminals at either end. These are believed to have acted as interlocking clasps, much like a clasp on a necklace.

The reason for the change of shape is a mystery. The practice of deliberately coiling torcs before burial is more common in Southern England. Only one other torc in Ireland has been found in a similar shape.

Some have suggested that the coiling was an act to ‘decommission’ the object after its owner died. Alternatively, it may have been a votive offering; an object made with the intention of deliberately burying it as an offering to the gods.

Dr McGreevy has also theorised that the object may have adorned a representation of a god and was never intended to be worn by people.

The torc will be on display alongside a range of other impressive Bronze Age gold work in the Early Peoples gallery at Ulster Museum.

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