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31 March 2011

Where did the gold come from?

Whenever I talk to people about the hoard, this is one of the first questions they ask. Often they want to know if it is Welsh gold.

To stand any chance of identifying where the gold used to make any object came from, it really must have been made with gold straight from the mine. Then you can see what impurities there are in the gold, and these impurities can identify the particular deposit that it came from. Unfortunately this almost never happens.

In the first place, the gold is almost always alloyed (mixed) with other metals like copper or silver to harden it, since pure gold is actually quite soft. This immediately introduces different impurities into the mixture and makes identifying the source of the gold very difficult.

However, the really big problem with gold is that, because it is so valuable, it is constantly being melted down, mixed with other gold and made into new objects. This has been going on time after time for thousands of years. Once gold has been mixed together like this it is absolutely impossible to say where any of it originally came from. This is likely to be the case for the gold in the Staffordshire Hoard.

So, while we will certainly be analysing samples of the gold to see if we can identify a likely origin, I don’t hold out a lot of hope that we will ever be able to answer this question.

Dr David Symons, curator at BMAG, Research Advisory Panel.