Objects and Techniques
The earliest objects were produced between 2200 - 1800 BC from gold that was probably acquired from river gravels and worked into thin sheets by hammering. The earliest forms were discs, sometimes found in matching pairs, each with a pair of perforations near the centres, and neck ornaments known as lunulae. Decoration occurs on the discs in the form of concentric rows of dots, crosses, triangles and zigzags and the presence of perforations suggests that they were attached to a garment worn on special occasions.
The crescent-shaped lunula, with expanded horn terminals set at right angles to the plane of the crescent, is the most characteristic gold object of the Irish Early Bronze Age. More than 100 are known from western Europe, of which more than 80 have been found in Ireland. Incised or punched decoration, confined normally to the horns and the internal and external edges, usually consists of fields of simple geometric patterns. This decoration can be compared with that found on pottery such as Beaker pottery and Bowl Food Vessels, as well as that found on certain flat copper-alloy axes and kite-shaped spearheads. Lunulae have been classified into three groups designated as Classical, Unaccomplished and Provincial, of which the Provincial type may be of foreign manufacture, based on Irish prototypes. Other very early Irish gold artefacts include a pair of basket-shaped earrings that, like some of the discs, can be compared with similar finds from Beaker burials in Britain. A small number of bracelets, a gold pin and decorated gold bands and plaques are also known.
At about 1200 BC new gold working techniques were developed and new styles began to appear. Ornaments made from sheet gold continued to be made, such as a pair of armlets and rings used as hair ornaments from Derrinboy, Co. Offaly. However the use of gold bars, either plain or with hammed flanges was an important development. An array of multifaceted neck ornaments, earrings and bracelets were made by twisting thin strips of gold sheet and gold bars.
The Late Bronze Age after around 850 BC was an extremely productive period noted for a very high degree of all the skills necessary to make a range and variety of quality gold work that falls into two main categories. Solid objects, cast or made from bars and ingots, such as bracelets, dress-fasteners and neck-rings, contrast with gorgets, ear-spools and discs made of sheet gold. Gold wire was also used in a number of ways but especially to produce the hair ornaments called lock-rings. Thin gold foil, sometimes highly decorated, was used to cover objects made of other metals such as copper, bronze or lead.
A variety of techniques were used to produce many different decorative motifs including arrangements of geometric patterns, concentric circles, domed or conical bosses and rope and herring bone patterns. The deposition of hoards of objects is a characteristic of the Late Bronze Age in Ireland. Several hoards of gold ornaments are known, while others contain a mixture of gold and bronze objects and sometimes also contain necklaces of amber beads. The number of spectacular discoveries from bogs suggests that the people of the Bronze Age regarded them as special places. A very large number of bronze and gold objects were found during turf cutting over a period of about 70 years in the Bog of Cullen in Co. Tipperary. A large hoard of gold ornaments found in marshy ground close to a lake at Mooghaun North, Co. Clare in 1854 contained over 150 objects, weighing over 11lbs. (5kg). The hoard consisted mostly of bracelets but also included at least six gold collars and two neck-rings.
Among the more dramatic gold items of the Late Bronze Age are large gorgets, made mainly from sheet gold, that would have been worn on the breast. Among the other showy items worn as objects of prestige, were large ear-spools that would have been inserted into ear lobes specially perforated and stretched for the purpose. Small penannular rings, known as ring-money may in fact have been ornaments for the ears or nose. Eleven large graduated spheres with lateral perforations from Tumna, Co. Roscommon were once strung together to form a necklace, while a variety of gold bracelets, pins, and dress-fasteners would also have formed part of the personal ornaments worn by powerful and wealthy members of Irish society during the Late Bronze Age.