The Dowris Hoard

The Later Bronze Age c.900 bc - 600 bc

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The Dowris hoard was found in either 1825 or 1833 by two men trenching potatoes in Whigsborough townland, Co. Offaly, at a place called Dowris.  It included more than 200 items of which roughly 190 are extant, 111 in the National Museum of Ireland and 79 in the British Museum.  Forty four spearheads were found, forty-three axes, twenty-four trumpets, and forty-four crotals (a kind of bell or chime instrument, unique to Ireland).  A bronze bucket was also found, it was constructed of sheets of bronze riveted together, this item is considered to be an imported item, two other buckets were also found and these are presumed to be native copies. 

John Coles argued that the Dowris objects were deposited at the site as a votive offering.  He postulated this theory because of the different type of bronze trumpets which were found there class 1 and class 2, which are usually mutually exclusive.


 According to Coles this could have occured by different people depositing different items at different times, and from varying regions.

The find included five swords, most of them similar in design to weapons in the south of England of that time.  The spearheads had a leaf shaped design which was an earlier design, there was one exception which had a lunate opening in it's blade.

An example of the type of horn found

  The axe-heads were socketed for easier attachment and are typical of this time period.  Further tools were found including gouges, chisels and knives which would have been used by woodworkers.  The 'crotals' have caused a bit of controversy as it is not known whether they were used as tradesmen's weights, or musical instruments, or even as has been suggested by John Coles, representations of a bull's scrotum, and thus part of a fertility cult associated with bulls, the musical horns also are similar in appearance to bull's horns and would have made a deep bellowing sound when played.  

A great number of these bronze horns survived at Dowris, twenty six in total, can be either straight or curved and some have small conical spikes placed near the non-playing end.  The horns were blown either from the side or the end depending on the design.  Recent experiments have shown that the horns are capable of producing a wide variety of sound, the style of playing is similar to that employed by those playing the Australian Native instrument known as a didgeridoo.  For more information about these Bronze Age Horns and other musical instruments click here. (external link) 

The horns were cast in two-piece moulds, however the Dowris hoard also contained vessels made of individual bronze sheets riveted together, such as the bucket, which according to Christopher Hawkes and M.A. Smith was imported from Eastern Central Europe around the 8th century B.C.  There was also a cauldron which contained many of the smaller items found at the Dowris site.  This lends credence to the idea that this was not really a 'hoard' of objects but a 'votive deposit' - If that is so technically it means that whoever finds such items can sell them on as they are not covered by 'treasure trove' laws.  (The Broighter hoard caused such a controversy).

  Eogan, G. Hoards of the Irish Later Bronze Age,  University College Dublin 1983.


Armstrong, E. C. R. - Some Irish Bronze Age Finds. PRIA 36C, pp 134-49. 1922.


O'Kelly, Michael J. - Early Ireland, an introduction to Irish Prehistory, Cambridge University Press, 1989.


Coles, John - Dowris and the Late Bronze Age of Ireland, a footnote, JRSAI no.101, pp164-5. 1971.


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