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Celtic gold Torcs

Torc - A Celtic necklace made of gold, bronze or iron

The Winchester Treasure

The gold was exceptionally pure, at above 90%. The necklace torcs had clasps of a type unknown to Celtic craftsmen. The decoration of gold globules ('granulation') and gold wire ('filigree') had been fixed with an invisible bond by a technique known as 'diffusion soldering'. And whereas most torcs were rigid, these were thick but flexible chains of interwoven rings.

Who made the Winchester torcs? - Torcs were symbols of wealth, power and courage across barbarian Europe. The type and decoration of the objects are certainly Celtic. The brooches are of a 'safety-pin' form commonly found in pairs, because they were used to attach the cloaks worn by Iron Age people.

But the techniques of manufacture are Roman. Was the master-craftsman who made them an immigrant in service to a great British lord? Or were the treasures a diplomatic gift, deliberately crafted in Celtic style to appeal to 'barbarian' taste, perhaps even a present from Caesar to a client-king?

Uddelerveen, bronze age, bronze torc
The Great Torc from Snettisham


Iron Age, about 75 BC
Found at Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk, England

The most famous object from Iron Age Britain

This torc was made with great skill and tremendous care in the first half of the first century BC. It is one of the most elaborate golden objects made in the ancient world. Not even Greek, Roman or Chinese gold workers living 2000 years ago made objects of this complexity.

The torc is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads. Each thread was 1.9 mm wide. Eight threads were twisted together at a time to make 8 separate ropes of metal. These were then twisted around each other to make the final torc. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds. The hollow ends were then welded onto the ropes.

The torc was found when the field at Ken Hill, Snettisham was ploughed in 1950. Other hoards were found in the same field in 1948 and 1990. The torc was buried tied together with a complete bracelet by another torc. A coin found caught in the ropes of the Great Torc suggests the hoard was buried around 75 BC.

Diameter: 20 cm
Weight: 1080 g

Silver torc from the Snettisham hoard L


Iron Age, around 75 BC
From Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk., England


A silver torc from the Snettisham Treasure


This is one of two silver torcs buried with ten gold ones in a small pit. After they had been covered with dirt, another seven torcs were carefully packed on top. Hoard L was just one of at least eleven clusters of gold, silver and bronze torcs buried at Snettisham. They were buried in the countryside, away from farms and villages. There is no evidence that a temple existed at Snettisham.

The torc was made in the same way as many of those made of gold found at Snettisham. Thin threads of silver were twisted together to make ropes, and the hollow terminals (ends) then added.

The metal torcs made in this way were heavy and needed a large quantity of valuable metal to make them. Imagine wearing the weight of two bags of sugar around your neck in gold or silver!

Diameter: 19.5 cm
Weight: 920 g

Gold torc from the Snettisham hoard L


Iron Age, around 75 BC
From Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk., England


A treasured heirloom?


This torc had been made some years before it was buried at Snettisham. It appears to have been worn for a long time; it had been broken at least once and was repaired with a sheet of gold and gold ropes and rings. The main part of the torc is made from four ropes, each made from 8 strains of gold wire twisted around each other. The hollow ends are elaborately decorated with La Tène style patterns.

This torc was placed in a small hole in the ground with 20 other torcs. First 10 gold torcs, including this one, and two silver torcs were placed in the ground along with two bronze bracelets. Then soil was thrown in the hole before another 7 torcs were carefully placed on top. Five of these torcs were made of silver and two from bronze. Did each torc belong to a different person? Did the older or the more important people wear gold rather than silver or bronze torcs? We will never be able to answer these questions with any certainty.

Diameter: 21 cm
Weight: 800 g

Electrum torc from Snettisham (Hoard G)


Iron Age, around 75 BC
From Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk, England

This torc is part of hoard G found at Snettisham, which was buried in a small pit cut into the rock. It contained 3 torcs made of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver), 7 silver torcs and 10 bronze torcs.

Different types of torcs were made and worn by the people who buried the treasure at Snettisham. Many, though not all, were made from twisted ropes of metal. This massive torc is a more simple type of the twisted rope torcs. It is made from four different bars of electrum, which have been slightly twisted around each other. The ends of the bars were then bent around each other to make the loop shaped terminals

Iron Age, around 75 BC
From Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk, England

These are the crown jewels of Norfolk of over 2000 years ago. They are gold and silver torcs that were worn around the neck to display the wearer's importance.

Torcs were first found at Snettisham in 1948 and 1950, and experts thought no more were buried there. Then in 1990, metal detectorist Charles Hodder found 9 kilograms of gold and silver fragments and ingots at the site. He reported his finds and helped archaeologists excavate the field. They unearthed seventy-five complete torcs, carefully buried in small pits.

But there are stories that another hoard was found at Snettisham. Known as 'the Bowl hoard', it is thought to consist of a silver bowl containing large numbers of Iron Age coins. It was illegally removed from the site and allegedly smuggled out of Britain and sold. Little more is known - a vital piece of our history has probably been lost forever.

Gold torcs from the Ipswich Hoard


Iron Age, around 75 BC
Found near Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Five of these gold torcs were found during construction work near Ipswich in 1968. The sixth was found nearby about a year later. They are one of two of the most famous collections of Iron Age gold torcs in The British Museum. The other, much larger, was found at Snettisham in Norfolk.

Torcs are ornaments worn around the neck. A person would have had to have had a neck smaller than 18.7 cm in circumference to wear these examples.

Scientific analysis by the Department of Scientific Research at The British Museum shows that the torcs are made from an alloy (mixture) of 90% gold and 10% silver. This is an important discovery as it helps archaeologists to estimate more accurately when they were made. Gold objects made from between 150 and 75 BC have a high percentage of gold. Gold objects made after 75 BC have more and more silver mixed with the metal. The scientific results suggest this set of torcs were made around 75 BC. But highly valuable objects like these might have been worn for many years before they were buried.

Each torc was made by twisting two rods of gold around each other. The ends, the 'terminals', were each cast on to the twisted rods using the lost wax technique. Each terminal is hollow, the La Tène-style decoration cut into the clay mould so that it stands up from the surface of the ends, which were then polished. Each terminal, of all the torcs, has a slightly different pattern from its pair.

Diameter: 18.7 cm

The Milton Keynes hoard


Late Bronze Age, about 1150-800 BC
Found near Milton Keynes, England

The hoard comprises two gold torcs, three bracelets and a tiny fragment of bronze rod or wire found within an undecorated pottery bowl. It was found by two metal-detectorists, whose diligence in reporting the find to local archaeologists ensured that the information on the context of the find is very good. As a result we have the first certain association between a gold hoard and pottery for the British Middle to Late Bronze Age (about 1500-800 BC).

Bronze Age gold metalwork is usually found in isolation, but the associated pottery vessel helps confirm, and may eventually refine, the dating of this hoard. The find provides an invaluable link between gold types and the broader social and economic picture for Bronze Age Britain.

Weighing in at over two kilos, this is one of the biggest concentrations of Bronze Age gold known from Britain and seems to flaunt wealth. The two torcs are penannular (open) neck-rings of elliptical cross-section. One torc is decorated with incised lines, except for a plain strip along the rear face, and with more complex groove decoration near the terminals. The other is only decorated near the terminals, with a band of close-set grooves. Two of the bracelets are very chunky 'C'-shaped rings of elliptical cross-section. The third has an octagonal cross-section.

Diameter: 14.59 cm (larger torc: external)
Weight: 2.02 kg (total)
Diameter: 21 cm (pottery bowl)

Brass torc


Iron Age, AD 50-200
From Lochar Moss, Dumfriesshire, Scotland


A distinctive Scottish type of torc


This type of torc or neck ring is very different to those found at Snettisham. This is a beaded angular torc made from brass. It was found inside a bronze bowl during peat-cutting. One half of the torc is a solid, heavy bar cast in one piece. A La Tène-style scroll pattern has been cut out from another sheet of brass and attached to the bar with rivets. The other half of the torc is made very differently, with hollow brass beads threaded onto a bronze or iron wire. Today only thirteen beads survive, but originally the torc had another one or two beads. The collar could be worn with either the decorated plaque or the beaded section showing at the front.

The torc was made sometime between AD 50 and 200 and was found inside a bronze bowl buried in a bag. At this time, the Romans had conquered southern Britain and at different times occupied southern Scotland. These types of torcs have been found only in northern England and Scotland. This shows that they are a type of very distinctive costume, only used in this part of Roman and Free Britain.

Diameter: 16 cm (internal; max.)