National Museum of Ireland

Bronze Age Handling Box


Who might have owned amber jewellery in the Bronze Age?


The Bronze Age Handling Box contains a piece of raw amber and a replica of an amber bead necklace. Scroll down to find out more about the use of amber in Bronze Age Ireland.

How Amber is made

When some coniferous trees are damaged they produce a sticky substance called resin that protects them from insects and diseases. This resin falls to the ground and hardens in moist places such as riverbeds, lagoons and seabeds. Amber is fossilized resin that has lain undisturbed for millions of years. Most of the world’s amber is between 30 and 90 million years old.

Finding Amber

Amber is not native to Ireland and was imported from the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It was a highly prized material. It is often associated with hoards of gold objects but it has also been found on its own. Amber artefacts indicate trade and commerce between Ireland and Northern Europe during the Bronze Age.

Amber Beads Found in Ireland

One of the most impressive collections of amber beads discovered in Ireland was found in 1847 in Cogran, Co. Offaly. It is believed that 160 beads were originally found, though less than 120 survive today. The beads are of different sizes, and it is believed that they would have been worn in a graduated necklace. Several clasps of gold and a small gold collar were found with the beads. It is rare to find the stringing remaining on the amber beads, however there is one such example in the Museum of Archaeology.

Exhibition Links at the Museum of Archaeology

At the Museum of Archaeology there are sets of amber bead necklaces dating from the Bronze Age on display in the ‘Prehistoric Ireland’ and ‘Ór – Ireland’s Gold’ exhibitions. In the ‘Finds from Irish Wetlands’ exhibition on the first floor, there is one set displayed with a short thin strip of bronze wire that was discovered ten feet deep in a bog at Knockmaroe, Co. Tipperary.

Bronze Age Handling Box – Amber

Enquiry Question

Who might have owned amber jewellery in the Bronze Age?

What Amber Objects are in the Handling Box?

The Bronze Age Handling Box contains a replica of an amber bead necklace and a piece of amber. Amber necklaces were worn as jewellery during the Bronze Age, most likely symbolising a person of high status within the community.

Teaching About the Bronze Age Using these Amber Objects

There are Key Concepts, Key Questions and Learning Outcomes for a range of activities related to the Amber objects. These resources and activities can be downloaded for use in the classroom.

Key Concepts

  • Trade
  • Craftwork
  • Status
  • Hoards
  • Finds
  • Trade and Commerce

Key Questions

  • What does amber tell us about Bronze Age communities?
  • Who might have owned an amber necklace?
  • How is amber formed?

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the activities for Amber the students at Senior Primary and Junior Cycle levels will be able to:

  • Know that amber was imported into Ireland for use in making jewellery.
  • Discuss the significance of the importation of amber for our understanding of the Bronze Age.
  • Evaluate the impact of past actions (burying hoards) on our knowledge of the Bronze Age.

Activities & Resources

Specific activities have been created for each Handling Box object. Scroll down to view the activities and the accompanying teachers’ resources for Amber.

Generic Resources have also been created for use with all replica objects and raw material in the Bronze Age Handling Box. Click here to view these resources.

Education Centres have a Bronze Age Handling Box which can go out on loan (subject to terms and conditions) to primary and post primary schools. Contact your local Education Centre for more information.

The Bronze Age Handling Box Resource Project was developed by: