THE biggest Viking gold ring ever found in the British Isles has been discovered among the belongings of a York man following his death.

Mystery surrounds the origins of the 324.6 gram arm ring, which has excited experts, one of whom called the find "fantastic".

The ring was yesterday declared to be "treasure" at an inquest at New Earswick Folk Hall.

York coroner Donald Coverdale said that Douglas Ingol had stumbled across the ring while going through his late father's effects.

Recognising its potential archaeological significance, Mr Ingol took it to the Yorkshire Museum, which passed it to the British Museum for analysis.

In a letter to the coroner, Mr Ingol said his 88-year-old father had worked in the building trade all his life, and lived in the York area until his death in February.

"He was a bit of a hoarder of anything that interested him," he wrote.

Mr Ingol said his family had agreed the ring should be available to the public, and hoped it would go to the Yorkshire Museum.

Mr Coverdale said the ring would now pass to the Crown.

"The ultimate destination of this item is not within my control, but I very much hope that it is the Yorkshire Museum. This is a very beautiful item, displaying considerable qualities of workmanship, in a remarkable state of preservation for something so old."

The date and location of the ring's discovery were unknown.

Simon Holmes, of the Yorkshire Museum, said an independent committee representing top London auction houses would now assess its market value.

But the museum was determined to acquire the item, which is 260mm in length and 15mm in diameter at the centre, when it goes under the hammer.

Mr Holmes said: "It is not the first Viking gold ring to be found in the British Isles, but this is the largest. When it was placed on my desk my reaction was one of total amazement. It is fantastic. When you see one of these objects you know you will never see another one like it in your lifetime."

Updated: 11:00 Wednesday, August 25, 2004