Golden lunula and two gold discs (Coggalbeg hoard)

Golden lunula and two gold discs (Coggalbeg hoard), c. 2300–2000 B.C.E., gold, Coggalbeg, County Roscommon, Ireland (National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology)

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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re in the archaeological museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland, surrounded by gold objects. The object that we’re looking at, we believe, may be from 2200 BCE. It’s over 4,000 years old.

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:21] The one that we’re looking at is from the Coggalbeg hoard, which means that it was found in a deposit with other objects. In fact, this particular crescent-shaped object was supposedly found with two circular discs that have this cross-shaped motif.

Dr. Zucker: [0:38] Before we go any further, let’s unpack for a moment what this word “hoard” means. It refers to a cache. It refers to a deposit of objects that may have ended up in a particular place accidentally or perhaps purposefully. In this case, this treasure was found in a bog, that is, in a swampy area that was filled with peat.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:58] Around 2200, 2300 BCE, this is what we know as the Bronze Age. Just to put this in a broader historical context, this is the time of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. This is the time when you have similar types of objects being fashioned and made in parts of the Aegean with Minoans and the Mycenaeans.

[1:18] There’s not a direct correlation between them, but we do see these crescent-shaped objects appear in other parts of the world.

Dr. Zucker: [1:25] We’re looking at gold that we think was local to Ireland, and was fashioned presumably for high-status individuals, but we’re quickly on thin ice. We don’t know much about the people, and we don’t know much about how these objects were used.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:41] Some people think this was worn around the neck. Others claim that it was used as a decoration in the hair. We really don’t know.

Dr. Zucker: [1:48] Because they’re gold, they remain luminous, like they would have appeared to the people who made them. They are so intriguing because we have so little collateral information.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:59] These are a form that is very much associated with Ireland’s early history in that, as we noted earlier, we’re standing in a room where we find many of these crescent-shaped lunulae. We find many of them in the early Bronze Age in Ireland. Of about the hundred that exist still today, more than 80 of them come from Ireland.

[2:21] These were local traditions. This was gold that was being found here, and likely the ones that are in England or in continental Europe were coming from Ireland, meaning they were being brought elsewhere.

Dr. Zucker: [2:32] An important reminder that even at this early date, people were not isolated. There was trade and there was travel.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:38] If we look closely, we can see just how thin the gold has been hammered. It almost looks like a sheet of paper.

Dr. Zucker: [2:45] There’s a broad area in the main part of the crescent that is unadorned, but if you look carefully, you can see that the edging is inscribed. As the crescent tapers at both ends, there is more and more elaborate decoration that has been etched into the surface.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:00] That’s not unique to this particular lunula. We see that in many of the other examples that we’re surrounded by here in the museum. Again, we don’t know how these functioned, but we assume, based on the material, based on the fact that there are so many of them, that this was some type of high-status object.

Dr. Zucker: [3:18] These are challenging objects because historians often refer to the innovations in metalwork that come with the Celtic invasions later in Irish history, but these predate that Celtic contact, and yet we have very sophisticated metalworking that is clearly evident here.

[3:35] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Golden lunula and two gold discs (Coggalbeg hoard)," in Smarthistory, August 2, 2022, accessed May 18, 2024,