Ancient gold with a twist in its story is put on display
The 3,000-year-old torc was found four years ago in boggy ground at Corrard in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, by a passer-by who at first thought he had found a car engine spring. He realized its significance two years later, and it was declared treasure.
The rare piece weighs 720 grams and is approximately 87% gold, 11% silver and 2% copper. Its design would have been fashionable in Britain, Ireland and France between 1300-1100BC.
Torcs have been closely associated with the Celtic people of Bronze Age Europe since at least Roman times, when figures were often identified as Celtic in sculpture and paintings by the torcs they wore.
Made by smiths who expertly twisted the metal into a ribbon-like appearance (which gives the object its name, from the Latin torqueo, ‘to twist’), torcs were worn around the neck, waist, arm or breast.
However, a mystery surrounds the Ulster torc. In its present condition it could not have been worn anywhere on the body as it has been deliberately coiled like a spring.
The torc’s original design would have been as a large circular hoop with two solid terminals at either end. These are believed to have acted as interlocking clasps, much like a clasp on a necklace.
The reason for the change of shape is a mystery. The practice of deliberately coiling torcs before burial is more common in Southern England. Only one other torc in Ireland has been found in a similar shape.
Some have suggested that the coiling was an act to ‘decommission’ the object after its owner died. Alternatively, it may have been a votive offering; an object made with the intention of deliberately burying it as an offering to the gods.
Ulster Musuem, Belfast