The study of gold samples belonging to 50 artifacts from the early Bronze Age, dating to roughly 2500 BC, has led archaeologists to the discovery of an ancient gold trade route. The scientists found that route carried the precious metal from southwest Britain to Ireland. In order to determine this, they took some of the oldest gold artifacts found in Ireland and used a highly advanced technique to find their chemical composition. Once it was found, the archaeologists established that the gold had in fact most likely come from the Cornwall region of Britain.
Advanced technique known as laser ablation mass spectrometry was key to the discovery.
The technique used to study the gold objects, laser ablation mass spectrometry, is quite ingenious. Small, fragmented samples were taken from among artifacts belonging to the National Museum of Ireland. The artifacts ranged from necklaces to things like basket ornamentation and discs. Then, the isotopes of lead in these samples were measured, and the measurements compared to those of various gold samples from other locations. The scientists found that the samples most likely came from Cornwall, which suggested that a gold trade route was employed. This implication is strange for a number of reasons.
Why did the Bronze Age Irish use a gold trade route when their region had plenty of it?
Gold has been, for ages, a status symbol and direct indication of wealth, and is still an extremely important commodity in the global economy. Its importance to early Irishmen is easy to imagine, especially if you consider that early societies often believed it had magical properties. But why import gold when your region has plenty of it? Residents of the region where the artifacts were found certainly knew how to mine and use other metals, so it is extremely unlikely that they’d be stumped by the exploitation of local gold. A far easier theory to believe is that of Dr. Standish, lead author of the research essay- that the British gold was highly sought for its exotic nature.
Discovery of ancient gold trade route has interesting implications for ancient economics.
The finding of the Cornwall gold in Ireland suggests a couple of things. Since far less gold has been found in Cornwall and nearby southern Britain, it is a relatively safe assumption that people from those regions placed a much lower value on gold than those from Ireland. It is very possible, also, that the gold was extracted during tin mining operations, then traded off because of its lack of usefulness and societal importance to the proto-Brits. Furthermore, the findings imply that gold values would vary wildly from region to region, at least until gold coinage would first be minted nearly 500 years later.