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Amateur with metal detector finds 1,600-year-old royal ring

  • Escrick Ring 1.jpg

    The Escrick Ring, an intricately worked gold ring surrounding a brilliant blue sapphire discovered in 2009 by metal-detector enthusiast Michael Greenhorn, seen here with his discovery. (Kippa Matthews / York Museums Trust)

  • Escrick Ring.jpg

    A unique piece of jewelry called the Escrick Ring is only the second known use of a sapphire in jewellery found in the country, the first being a 5th century Roman example. It was found with a metal detector in 2009. (Kippa Matthews / York Museums Trust)

Did this intricate piece of sapphire, gold and glass belong to the King of France, some 1,600 years ago?

A group of archaeologist met at the Yorkshire Museum in England last week to discuss the Escrick Ring, an intricately worked gold ring surrounding a brilliant blue sapphire discovered in 2009 by an amateur metal-detector enthusiast.

'Nothing like it has been found in this country.'

- Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum

The ring, among the oldest pieces of sapphire jewelry ever found in the country, was thought to date from the 10th or 11th centuries -- until the group took a closer look.

“Nothing like it has been found in this country,” said Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum. “This sapphire ring is even more special than we had previously thought.”

The panel’s conclusion: The Escrick Ring was made in Europe, possibly France, and would have belonged to a king or leader -- not just a Bishop, as had been previously thought. It’s likely to date far earlier than previously thought as well: the 5th or 6th century, as much as 600 years earlier than archaeologists had believed.

"Hopefully this will lead us to finding out more about the ring and possibly even who might have owned it," she said.

The ring was found by Michael Greenhorn, from York and District Metal Detecting Club, in 2009. The Yorkshire Museum raised over $50,000 to purchase it.

Attendees of the workshop, which the Yorkshire Museum said included more than 30 experts from across the country, decided that the sapphire in the ring was probably cut earlier, possibly during the Roman period, but the ring itself was specially made around the sapphire. By looking at the wear on the ring it is thought that it was worn for at least 50 years before it was lost.

The gold hoop that forms the ring also looks slightly different to the main part of the ring, with suggestions being made that it was turned into a ring later, possibly from a brooch or mount.

Further research, including an X-ray analysis and samples from the gold hoop, may help to pinpoint its origin.