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Gold bulla

This tiny gold object (less than 3cm in length) was found at Inch, near Downpatrick, and is known as a ‘heart-shaped bulla’. It is on display in the  Early Peoples gallery in the History Zone of the Ulster Museum.

It was designed as an item of jewellery made in the Late Bronze, Age (sometime around 800-950 BC). The Inch bulla is incredibly rare, at the time of its discovery only 6 others from Ireland were known and is remarkable for the ability of its maker to work on a miniature scale.


The bulla has two main parts – a heart or bag-shaped body and a tubular top. The thin sheet of gold from which it is made is decorated where the front and back join with 13 tiny strands of twisted wire and 4 strands along the top.
We can be certain which is the front and back, as the back is plain and the front has 9 concentric circles each of which has a central stud or pin. The fact that it has a tube along the top suggests that it was threaded perhaps with a leather thong and worn as a sacred necklace or locket. An x-ray has revealed that it has a clay core rather than containing anything more mysterious!
Incredibly the Inch bulla is similar to two other bulla from the NW corner of Lough Neagh from Kinnegoe, County Armagh and near Arboe, Co. Tyrone  – in the National Museum of Ireland. Their similarity suggests they were manufactured in a northern workshop. Other gold finds from the Downpatrick area include a spectacular hoard of bracelets also on display.

Gold Bulla, side view showing blocked tube (on the left) and damage at join.

What should you look out for when you go to see this gold bulla? 
Try to imagine the skill involved in working on a miniature scale without the aid of a magnifying glass and see if you can count any of the individual strands of gold wire. The tube through which it was threaded to wear is blocked with dried soil.