Thursday, June 04, 2009

12th century silver ring found in Northern Ireland

By David Young
2 June 2009
Press Association National Newswire

A medieval silver ring dating back more than 800 years has been unearthed on a farm in Northern Ireland. The 12th century artefact was found by 17-year-old Conor Sandford as he was putting up a fence post at the edge of one of his father's fields near the village of Kilmore, Co Armagh.

The teenager told a treasure trove hearing in Belfast today he initially thought the engraved finger ring was a ring pull from an old fizzy drink can. "Only when I was putting the soil back into the hole did I notice this wee thing sticking out," he said. "You know I thought it was a ring pull, off a Coca Cola can."

The item was in fact a ring that experts at the Ulster Museum in Belfast have dated to circa 1170. The Sandford farm lies on land adjoining Kilmore parish church - an area acknowledged by archaeologists as a significant medieval settlement.

After making the discovery last summer, Conor contacted Helen Geake from Channel Four's Time Team, who advised him to get in touch with the Ulster Museum. Cormac Bourke, the museum's long standing curator of medieval antiquities, explained the ring would have belonged to someone of wealth. "It must pertain to middle or upper echelons of society, but we can't say if it was owned by a man or a woman," he said during the hearing at Belfast's Mays Chambers

Such cases are held before the Coroners Court in Northern Ireland to determine whether the items are treasure and thus belong to the Crown. In order to qualify for that status, the artefact has to be more than 300 years old and be 10% constituted of precious metal.

Mr Bourke told coroner Brian Sherrard he could date the ring to at least 1170 and revealed that tests had showed it to be around 90% silver. However, the expert later estimated its current value would be in the hundreds of pounds, not thousands.

Ruling that the ring was indeed treasure, Mr Sherrard commended Mr Sandford for realising the significance of the find and for the honourable way in which he had handed it in. "It's as well it wasn't thrown away as a ring pull as it nearly was," he added.

The ring will now be valued by a treasure committee in London, which will determine an appropriate reward for the Sandford family. Mr Sherrard asked Conor's father William if there had been any more significant finds on his land. "Unfortunately not," he said ruefully. "And I have been looking all my life."