Tuesday 29 December 2015


A couple of years ago, when I read A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, I was amazed at the scholarship and field work that could track a particular neolithic jade axe, found in Canterbury, UK back to the boulder from which it was cleaved: up a mountain in the Apennines 1000km to the South. That's a wonderful mix of Arts and Science.

At the beginning of December, University College London issued a press release about a finding by their chaps. All Universities have their Press and Publicity section now: a pal of mine, Professor in TCD, who is smart enough to stand astride the Arts - Science divide, was prevailed upon to make a little video about his latest paper. The UCL research was more in the line of filling in details rather than opening up a whole new field of historical population genetics, but was interesting nevertheless.  They have found the precise quarry from which the blue-stones of Stonehenge were prised 600 years ago.  We've known for nearly 100 years that these megaliths were not local but came from Preseli in South Wales, the recent study announces that they came from Craig Rhos-y-felin. That's interesting because it upsets a cosy supposition about how the stones were transported to the sea at Milford Haven and then upriver towards England.  That meant that more than half the 400km could be achieved by boat/raft. The location of Craig Rhos-y-felin on the North face of the hills makes this unlikely.  Also intriguing is that the dates established at the quarry are several; hundred years adrift of the dates at Stonehenge, which implies that the blue-stones had an intermediate function in an, as yet undiscovered, location.  That's pretty cool.

The other day, I was given qualified appro to Patrick Roycroft's 648 Billion Sunrises . One of the short chapters in there looks to see if there is gold in them that Irish hills.  It is undoubtedly true that there is gold in Wicklow, Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain in Mayo and also in the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down. As I hope we established back in July, Croagh Patrick is off-limits for gold abstraction because it is worth more for our culture and consciousness as a place of pilgrimage.  The National Museum of Ireland holds some stunning gold artifacts, which have a reputation beyond these shores for the quality of the workmanship given that they were wrought 4000 years ago when even the Greeks were running about their hills in goat-skin trousers. A pal of Roycroft's, Chris Standish from Bristol U, has done a nifty isotope analysis of several gold pieces - torcslunulae and that sort of thing.  He ignored the gold and zeroed in on the lead which usually co-occurs with gold; but lead exists in several isotopic varieties of different molecular weight.  Standish was able to match the Pb-isotope signature of the bronze age artifacts with none of the existing sources of Irish gold. A wider hunt through the WEA and continental Europe has turned up a best match in Cornwall!  Not a perfect match like the blue-stones at Craig Rhos-y-felin but good enough for a first approximation. The consensus is that, while the gold came from foreign, the craftsmen were doing their work in Ireland: they just needed the right, and sufficient, raw materials.

A new source of Irish gold was announced in March 2015 at Clontibret in Co Monaghan. their geologists are claiming 600,000 ounces of gold at 1oz (28g) to the ton, which will turn a nice profit unless the price of gold tanks.

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