Besides being the largest by far – up to 12 times longer than previous finds – the team is puzzled by how such a “high-status” Viking treasure came to lie in the Burren, an area never settled by the Norsemen.
The site where the necklace was found at Glencurran Cave was described by team leader Dr Marion Dowd of Sligo IT as a “treasure trove” for archaeologists.
The necklace is one of a number of major items discovered in the dig, funded by the Department of the Environment and the Royal Irish Academy.
Dr Dowd said yesterday: “The necklace is the largest Viking necklace to have been found in Ireland. Normally, Vikings necklaces that have been found have five to six glass beads, but this has 71 glass beads covered with gold foil.”
A leading expert on Irish cave archaeology, Dr Dowd was puzzled by how such a “stunning piece of jewellery” came to rest in the Burren.
“There is no parallel for it in Ireland and it is puzzling on a number of fronts,” he said.
Dr Dowd said that the Vikings never settled in the Burren, but that Limerick was one of the Irish cities that they did settle in and speculated that the necklace – dating from the mid 9th century – could have been the result of a trade with Vikings from Limerick and Gaelic chieftains in the Burren.
Already, the skeletal remains of a two to four-year-old child that were placed in the cave in the Bronze Age, about 3,500 years ago, were subject to ancient DNA analysis
In all, the excavation has discovered the remains of seven adults, two children and one baby. A 10,000-year-old bear shoulder bone, a scapula, has also been found.