A rare 3,000-year-old piece of gold jewellery unearthed in bogland by an amateur treasure hunter has been unveiled to the public at its new home - the Ulster Museum.
The golden torc was dug up in Co Fermanagh four years ago by a local man who at first thought it was a spring from a car engine.
It was another two years before Ronnie Johnston figured it was rather more significant after noticing something similar in a treasure hunters magazine.
The item was subsequently declared a valuable artefact at a special treasure inquest at Northern Ireland Coroner’s Court and ultimately purchased by Stormont’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
Hailed by experts as one of the most spectacular single items of prehistoric gold jewellery ever found in Ireland, it has now has gone on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
Dr Jim McGreevy, director of collections and interpretation at National Museums Northern Ireland, said the torc was a stunning addition to the museum’s Bronze Age collection.
“We are delighted that this beautiful piece of ancient jewellery, of which there are only nine other examples from Ireland, can now be enjoyed by visitors to the Ulster Museum,” he said.
“It is an item of great archaeological significance and epitomises the supreme skill of the goldsmith. Ireland produced an impressive range of gold jewellery during the Bronze Age including earrings, bracelets and torcs.
“While we will never know who owned the torc, they clearly had access to a highly sought after item that was fashionable in Ireland, Britain and France between 1300-1100BC.
“We are grateful to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for funding its purchase.”
Many mysteries still surround this gold torc. In its present condition the torc could not be worn as it has been deliberately coiled, appearing rather like a large spring.
But the torc was originally designed to form a large circular hoop with two solid connections at either end. These are believed to have acted as interlocking clasps to allow the torc to be fastened and unfastened.
The main body of the torc has a narrow twisted ribbon-like appearance and it is this skilful twisting by the goldsmith that gives the object its name torc - from the Latin torquis - ‘to twist’.
Experts cannot be certain on what part of the body they were worn. Those of a smaller size could have been used as a necklace with larger examples worn around the waist.
Experts admit the reason for changing the shape of the torc from a circular hoop into what now looks like a coiled spring remains a mystery.
Only one other torc in Ireland has been deliberately coiled before burial, a practice more common in southern Britain.
Some suggest it was buried when the owner died and the coiling was a type of “decommissioning” so that it could no longer be worn.
Alternatively, another theory argues it could have been an offering to the gods - fitting in with a pattern in the Bronze Age where some of the finest bronze and gold objects appear to be deliberately buried in wet locations like bogs, rather than being lost.
The torc now sits alongside a range of other Bronze Age gold work in the museum’s Early Peoples gallery.
The museum’s Bronze Age collections include bronze tools and weapons, gold jewellery, pottery, amber beads and flint arrowheads.