New research points to an ancient gold trade route between the south-west areas of the UK and Ireland. People living there were trading gold as early as the Bronze Age (2,500 BC).

How did archaeologists figure this out? They used a new technique to measure the composition of gold in the earliest gold artifacts in Ireland. And, the results surprised them.

Despite having ample gold reserves locally, Bronze Age gold workers in Ireland were using gold sourced from outside the country.

Lead author Dr Chris Standish offers one theory why.

“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,” said Standish.

Plus, the gold was relatively close by. It’s believed to have been sourced from Cornwall. The researchers say it’s possible the gold was extracted and traded as part of the tin mining industry.

Standish found something else that surprised him. There appeared to have been much less gold in Cornwall and southern Britain at the time. According to Standish, “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.”

Yeah, if I were living in the Bronze Age – I would rather trade gold for clothes, livestock and other daily necessities too.

How gold’s value changed over time

Today, we look at gold as purely linked to economic wealth. In the past, gold’s was still valuable – but it was for different reasons. In some societies, gold’s value was tied more towards belief systems rather than economics.

Dr Alistair Pike, co-author of the study, talks about this further:

“The results of this study are a fascinating finding. They show that there was no universal value of gold, at least until perhaps the first gold coins started to appear nearly two thousand years later. Prehistoric economies were driven by factors more complex than the trade of commodities – belief systems clearly played a major role.”

The oldest gold artifacts ever found

Now, you’re probably wondering what are the oldest gold artifacts ever found? The discovery of the world’s oldest gold artifacts is a recent one. A construction work stumbled upon the Varna Necropolis in October 1972.

It’s located in Bulgaria and is one of the most important archaeological sites for its time period. The gold artifacts at this site have been dated to 4,600 BC – 4,200 BC.

294 graves have been excavated at the Varna Necropolis. These graves don’t just have a little bit of gold either. Check out the grave below.

Varna necropolis gold artifacts

Image credit: Wikipedia.

Featured image: Bronze Age necklace and discs found in Ireland. Credit: University of Southampton.

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