Location: Ulster Museum / History / Early Peoples

Lunulae are among the earliest items of prehistoric gold jewellery found in Ireland. They first occur towards the beginning of the Bronze Age at around 2300BC. There are four gold lunulae on display in the Early Peoples gallery.

The antiquarian term ‘lunula’ is derived from their similarity in shape to the crescent shaped moon.

Working only with a hammer and anvil, a lunula is fashioned from beating a bar of gold. Weighing only around 50gms, the thin sheet of metal has the feel of tin foil that can be bent and manipulated as necessary. This would make it possible to fit them around the neck which is the traditional interpretation of how they might have been worn.

Recent research has suggested an alternative comparison for their shape, based on the crescent sun as seen in an eclipse. This theory is strengthened by their occurrence in a hoard from Coggalbeg hoard, Co. Roscommon with two circular gold ‘sun discs’ (there are copies of two sun discs on display in the case to the left of the lunulae).

There is no doubt that the sun played an important role in the religious beliefs of both Neolithic and Bronze Age people in Ireland. Perhaps in some way the lunulae and sun discs convey the energy and life giving power of the sun itself.

What to look for when you visit: Some lunulae are decorated while one on display has a crumpled appearance suggesting that it may have been folded in antiquity.

Image: Gold lunula, Ballybay, Co. Monaghan
Gold lunula, Ballybay, Co. Monaghan