Archaeologists believe that a trade route existed between southwest England and Ireland as long ago as the early Bronze Age.

A team of researchers has discovered evidence that gold was being traded between the two nations. Archaeologists at the University of Southampton, with the help of the University of Bristol, have analyzed the chemical composition of gold artifacts in Ireland using a new technique.

Scientists Discover Prehistoric Gold Trade Route
Source: Pixabay

Bronze Age trade route discovered between England and Ireland

Their findings showed that some of the earliest gold artifacts in Ireland are made from imported gold, which likely came from Cornwall, in southwest England.

“This is 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, despite the existence of a number of easily-accessible and rich gold deposits found locally,” said lead author Dr Chris Standish.

“It is unlikely that knowledge of how to extract gold didn’t exist in Ireland, as we see large scale exploitation of other metals. It is more 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,” Standish said.

Advanced technique provides evidence of gold trade

A technique known as laser ablation mass spectometry was used to analyze 50 early Bronze Age artifacts from the collection of the National Museum of Ireland. Scientists analyzed isotopes of lead and compared them to the composition of gold deposits from a number of different locations.

Analysis showed that the gold was likely mined in Cornwall, where the local tin mining industry may have led to the extraction of gold.

“Perhaps what is most interesting is that during this time, compared to Ireland, there appears to be much less gold circulating in Cornwall and southern Britain,” Standish said. “This implies gold was leaving the region because those who found it felt it was of more value to trade it in for other ‘desirable’ goods – rather than keep it,” he continued.

It is thought that gold may not have had a universal value at the time, encouraging the Cornish miners to trade it for other items they considered more valuable.