Photo: the bronze bell shrine dates from between 1180 and 1200 AD. Courtesy of Kelvin Boyes Photography.
Recent excavations at a site in County Antrim, Northern Ireland have unearthed what archaeologists are describing as one of the most significant objects ever to be found in the country.
A bronze bell shrine, dating back to between 1180 and 1200 AD has been uncovered during a dig at Drumadoon near Ballycastle.
One of only eight such objects currently known to exist in Ireland, the shrine is the first to be found by archaeologists.
The discovery was made during a joint-investigation by the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland and the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen's University, Belfast,
"This is among the most important archaeological objects ever found in the course of an excavation in Ireland," said Brian Williams of the DoE's Environment and Heritage Service, who made the historic discovery.
"It is a precious and rare survival of an ancient sacred object that would have been venerated by the people of North Antrim over 800 years ago. It had clearly been cared for and hidden in the ground for safekeeping."
"Now that it has come to light again it is vital that we continue to care for the bell shrine for present and future generations."
Photo: the shrine would have been an object of great religious significance when it was made and may even have belonged to a saint. Courtesy of Kelvin Boyes Photography.
According to Brian the shrine would have contained a sacred bell and almost certainly belonged to a saint or other holy person.
The artefact's intricate metalwork depicts a figure of the crucified Christ. His eyes are made from pale blue glass beads and he is wearing a three-pointed crown.
Panels at the front and back have small shamrock-shaped devices that are pierced with rivets to hold the device together and a cross would originally have been attached to it.
Other discoveries made at the site, which is believed to have been occupied from the ninth to the thirteenth century, indicate that it was of high status and of local military significance. As well as a large quantity of pottery, archaeologists found an iron arrowhead, an iron spearhead and butchered animal and fish bones.
Philip Maguire, Principle Information Officer at the DoE explained just how rare such an object actually is.
"There are only eight of these in Ireland, but the rest have been handed down, so this is the first time it has been found on a dig."
Although the shrine is currently the property of the landowner, it is hoped that in due course it will be acquired by Ulster Museum.