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A Non-local Source of Irish Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Gold

  • Christopher D. Standish (a1) (a2), Bruno Dhuime (a1), Chris J. Hawkesworth (a1) (a3) and Alistair W. G. Pike (a2)
Abstract

Lead isotope analyses of 50 Irish Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age gold artefacts favour a gold source in southern Ireland. However when combined with major element analysis, the artefacts are not consistent with any Irish gold deposit analysed to date. Understanding the lead isotope signatures of ore deposits within a study region allows informed inferences to be drawn regarding the likelihood that an unanalysed ore deposit was exploited in the past. If an Irish gold source is assumed, then the gold is most likely to have originated from deposits hosted by Old Red Sandstone in the Variscan ore field of south-west Ireland. However, based on our current understanding of mineralisation in the region, this scenario is considered unlikely. A non-Irish source for the gold is therefore preferred – a scenario that may favour cosmologically-driven acquisition, ie, the deliberate procurement of a material from distant or esoteric sources. Available geochemical data, combined with current archaeological evidence, favour the alluvial deposits of south-west Britain as the most likely source of the gold.

RÉSUMÉ

Une origine non locale pour l’or irlandais du chalcolithique et de l’âge du bronze ancien, de Christopher D. Standish, Bruno Dhuime, Chris J. Hawkesworth, et Alistair W.G. Pike

L’analyse des isotopes du plomb sur 50 objets irlandais du chalcolithique et de l’âge du bronze ancien suggère que l’or dont ils sont composés proviendrait d’Irlande du sud. Toutefois la comparaison des données isotopiques avec les données d’éléments majeurs montre que ces objets ne proviennent d’aucune source identifiée en Irlande à ce jour. La caractérisation fine des signatures isotopiques en plomb des différents gisements présents au sein de la région étudiée a permis de réduire la probabilité qu’un dépôt de minerai non analysé ait pu être exploité dans le passé. Si on suppose une origine locale (c’est à dire irlandaise) pour l’or, celui-ci proviendrait vraisemblablement de gisements d’âge Varisque associés aux formations du Old Red Sandstone et localisés au sud-ouest de l’Irlande. Ce scénario est toutefois considéré comme peu probable d’après les données de minéralisation établies pour cette région. Une source non-irlandaise pour l’or doit alors être envisagée, dans le cas par exemple d’une acquisition poussée par des croyances cosmologiques ou bien ésotériques. Les données géochimiques, associées aux données archéologiques disponibles, suggèrent ainsi que l’or proviendrait de dépôts alluvionnaires localisés au sud-ouest de la Grande-Bretagne.

ZUSSAMENFASSUNG

Ein nicht-lokaler Ursprung des irischen Goldes des Chalkolithikums und der Frühbronzezeit, von Christopher D. Standish, Bruno Dhuime, Chris J. Hawkesworth, und Alistair W. G. Pike

Analysen von Bleiisotopen von 50 Artefakten des irischen Chalkolithikums und der frühen Bronzezeit legen einen Ursprung des Goldes aus dem Süden Irlands nahe. Wenn diese Ergebnisse jedoch mit einer Hauptkomponentenanalyse kombiniert werden, lassen sich die Artefakte mit keiner bis heute untersuchten Goldlagerstätte Irlands in Übereinstimmung bringen. Eine bessere Kenntnis der Signaturen von Bleiisotopen von Erzlagerstätten innerhalb eines bestimmten Untersuchungsgebiets ermöglichen Rückschlüsse in Bezug auf die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass eine noch nicht analysierte Lagerstätte in der Vorgeschichte ausgebeutet worden ist. Falls eine irische Quelle für das Gold der Artefakte angenommen wird, dann ist es am wahrscheinlichsten, dass das Gold aus Lagerstätten im Old Red-Sandstein im variskischen Erzlagergebiet im Südwesten Irlands stammt. Aufgrund unserer heutigen Kenntnis der Mineralisation dieses Gebiets muss dieses Szenario jedoch als unwahrscheinlich betrachtet werden. Eine nicht-irische Quelle des Goldes wird daher als wahrscheinlich angenommen – ein Szenario, das für einen kosmologisch motivierten Erwerb des Metalls sprechen mag, das heißt, dass das Material gezielt aus entfernten oder esoterischen Quellen beschafft wurde. Vorhandene geochemische Daten in Kombination mit vorliegenden archäologischen Kenntnissen sprechen für alluviale Lagerstätten im Südwesten Großbritanniens als der wahrscheinlichsten Quelle des Goldes.

RESUMEN

Procedencia no local del oro del Calcolítico y Edad del Bronce de Irlanda, por Christopher D. Standish, Bruno Dhuime, Chris J. Hawkesworth, y Alistair W. G. Pike

Los análisis de isótopos de plomo de 50 artefactos de oro del Calcolítico y Bronce Antiguo de Irlanda sugieren una fuente de abastecimiento para el oro situada en el sur de Irlanda. Sin embargo, al combinarlos con análisis de elementos principales, los artefactos no coinciden con ningún depósito de oro irlandés analizado hasta el momento. La comprensión de las signaturas isotópicas del plomo de los yacimientos minerales de una región determinada permite inferir de forma fundada la probabilidad de que un depósito mineral no analizado fuese explotado en el pasado. De asumir una fuente de oro en Irlanda, su origen más probable serían los depósitos de Old Red Sandstone en el distrito varisco del suroeste de Irlanda. Sin embargo, basándonos en nuestro conocimiento actual de la mineralogía de la región, este escenario es considerado improbable. Nos decantamos, por tanto, por un origen no irlandés para el oro -un escenario que favorecería la adquisición por motivos cosmológicos, es decir, el abastecimiento deliberado de un material procedente de fuentes lejanas o esotéricas. Los datos geoquímicos disponibles, combinados con la evidencia arqueológica disponible en la actualidad, señalan los depósitos aluviales del suroeste de Inglaterra como la zona de abastecimiento más probable para el oro.

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Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  • ISSN: 0079-497X
  • EISSN: 2050-2729
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-prehistoric-society
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