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An excavation, funded by the Department of the Environment and the Royal Irish Academy, has uncovered a “high-status” Viking necklace in a cave in the Burren. Also found, at Glencurran cave, were the remains of seven adults, two children and an infant (the latter dated to the middle Bronze Age) and the 10,000 year old shoulder-bone of a bear. The necklace, the longest of its type to be found in Ireland, has been dated to around 850 CE.

According to team leader Marion Dowd; “Viking necklaces that have been found have five to six glass beads, but this has 71 glass beads covered with gold foil.” No evidence of Viking settlement exists in the Burren area, so how did such a significant item – 12 times the size of previous specimens – get there and into a cave? Speculation is currently centring on trade, from Limerick, with local Gaelic chieftans.

There may also be a vague shadow in the story of Olaf the Peacock, one of the protagonists of the Icelandic ‘Laxdaela Saga’ and grandson, via a seized mother, of the Irish King, Myrkjartan (Muirchertach). An early chapter of the saga describes his visit to Ireland, about 100 years after the necklace date, with first, a grounding in an unfamiliar area and then, the threat of seizure of his goods by the Irish;

“Then they cast anchors, and they caught bottom at once. There was much talk during the night as to where they could be come to; and when daylight was up they recognised that it was Ireland. Orn said, “I don’t think we have come to a good place, for this is far away from the harbours or market-towns, whose strangers enjoy peace; and we are now left high and dry, like sticklebacks, and near enough, I think, I come to the laws of the Irish in saying that they will lay claim to the goods we have on board as their lawful prize, for as flotsam they put down ships even when sea has ebbed out shorter from the stern (than here).”

Then, the aid to a grandfather, in his struggles on the west coast;

“The king was seldom at rest, for at that time the lands in the west were at all times raided by war-bands. The king drove from his land that winter both Vikings and raiders. Olaf was with his suite in the king’s ship, and those who came against them thought his was indeed a grim company to deal with.”

And finally, the parting gifts;

“When Olaf’s ship was ready, the king saw him off on board; and gave him a spear chased with gold, and a gold-bedecked sword, and much money besides.”

Clearly, there are more ways than one to gain a necklace, but what carried it (trade, spoil, salvage or gift) into the cave?

My precious.


April 2010

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