An extremely rare Viking clothing accessory is among four items sent anonymously to the National Museum of Ireland — but only knowing where it was found will determine its real importance.
The museum is appealing for contact from the person who sent the items in two padded envelopes two weeks ago.
The 10th-century bronze tag from a belt or other clothing strap is 5cm long and arrived in two fragments.
“There’s a human face ornately carved in the top, and an animal’s head at the bottom. It’s very rare and unusual, as the design is from the Borre area of Norway, and somebody of some significance would have had it,” said Mary Cahill, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland.
As the first of its style to be found in Ireland, the location of its discovery is hugely important as it was almost certainly brought to the country rather than being made here.
The envelopes arrived days after recent discussions about metal detecting on RTE’s Livelineradio show. The contents were very likely found with a metal detector, and it is illegal to use such equipment to search for archaeological items, under law aimed at preventing damage to historic sites and monuments.
“Our biggest concern now is to identify where these objects came from. The gardaí have investigated a lot of cases, and some have been prosecuted. But we have come to an understanding in many cases, where we are satisfied the person will no longer engage in using metal detectors,” said Ms Cahill.
She said this person went 80% to 90% of the way in doing the right thing by sending the objects. But only knowing exactly where each was found will give a true understanding of their significance.
Their condition suggests they were unearthed relatively recently, anything from a few weeks to several years — but not decades — ago.
The larger of two axe heads was made of copper in the early Bronze Age about 4,200 years ago. Such finds are not uncommon, but it could be more important if from a place where similar items have never been found.
A smaller 8.5cm Bronze Age axe head is at least 500 years later, from about 1,500 to 1,400 BC.
Ms Cahill can be contacted at the National Museum of Ireland on 01-677444
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