Fragments from an ancient chalice etched with iconography from the early church have been discovered just south of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.
The pieces were discovered amongst the remains of the sixth-century Christian church at Vindolanda, and form part of an "incredibly rare lead Christian cup or chalice" according to the Vindolanda Charitable Trust.
Although in poor condition due to being close to the surface of the ground, lightly etched symbols could be observed, each of which represented "different forms of Christian iconography from the time."
"The combination of so many of these etchings and the context of the discovery makes this artefact one of the most important of its type to come from early Christianity in Western Europe," the trust announced. "It is the only surviving partial chalice from this period in Britain and the first such artefact to come from a fort on Hadrian’s Wall."
The etchings comprise of several identifiable symbols from the early church including ships, crosses and chi-rho, fish, a whale, a happy bishop, angels, members of a congregation, letters in Latin, Greek and potentially Ogam.
The artefact is being analysed by a team led by post-Roman specialist Dr David Petts from Durham University.
Dr Petts said: "This is a really exciting find from a poorly understood period in the history of Britain. Its apparent connections with the early Christian church are incredibly important, and this curious vessel is unique in a British context. It is clear that further work on this discovery will tell us much about the development of early Christianity in beginning of the medieval period."