In 1834 a group of men ‘landing potatoes’ at Tumna, Co. Roscommon discovered a collection of curious gold balls. Dating from the Late Bronze Age, these ancient artefacts had lain hidden in the ground for nearly 3,000 years. They were hollow inside and contained opposed holes to facilitate threading, suggesting that they had originally formed part of an elaborate necklace. When they were uncovered there were at least eleven balls, but today only nine are extant and these are now on display at National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
The balls were fashioned out of small lumps of gold that had been painstakingly hammered into very thin hemispheres. The hemispheres were then fused together, via the addition of heat, to form hollow balls. Remarkable feats of gold working, the balls varied in size, with the largest measuring c. 97mm in diameter and the smallest c. 68mm across. Their weights were similarly diverse, with the heaviest tipping the scales at 73g and lightest at 38g. No evidence of the material used to thread the balls/beads together survives, although it may have been an organic substance, such as leather, wool or plant fibre.
Mary Cahill of the National Museum of Ireland has drawn parallels between the Tumna gold balls and number of Bronze Age amber beads from Ireland, which are of similar size and shape. This may indicate that the Tumna balls were an attempt to replicate in gold the exotic amber necklaces of the period. The resultant gold necklace was certainly a magnificent object and it must have been an item of considerable status and prestige for its owner.