A TEAM of archaeologists are scratching their heads over the 'bizarre' discovery of a 1,150-year-old Viking necklace in a Burren Cave.
It is the largest Viking necklace discovered in Ireland and is said to be "relatively rare in the Viking world".
Dr Marion Dowd of Sligo IT is leading the excavation of Glencurran Cave in the Burren National Park, which she yesterday described as a 'treasure trove' for archaeologists.
The necklace was one of the major items discovered in the dig funded by the Department of the Environment and the Royal Irish Academy and is described as a 'stunning piece of jewellery' by Dr Dowd.
Dr Dowd said yesterday: "The necklace is the largest Viking necklace to have been found in Ireland. Normally, Viking necklaces that have been found have five to six glass beads, but this has 71 glass beads covered with gold foil."
A leading expert on Irish cave archaeology, Dr Dowd said: "It is really is bizarre how this necklace from a high status Viking came to be in a cave in the Burren. There is no parallel for it in Ireland and it is puzzling on a number of fronts."
"The necklace would have been imported into Ireland from Scandinavia in the late 9th and early 10th century. Small numbers of these beads have been found with Viking burials at Kilmainham, Dublin, but nothing like the number found in Glencurran Cave.
"Such necklaces were worn by high status Viking women that they might denote a woman's cultural and religious affiliations. These were certainly prestigious items."
Dr Dowd said that the Vikings never settled in the Burren and speculated that the necklace -- dating from the mid 9th century -- could have been the result of a trade with Vikings from Limerick and Gaelic chieftains in the Burren.
The cave is located in a remote site in the Burren National Park and according to Dr Dowd "has been the site of important archaeological discoveries since 2004". Dr Dowd said that the cave has been excavated in 2004, '08 and '09 and that she hopes to return next summer.
Among the discoveries were the skeletal remains of a two to four-year-old child that were placed in the cave in the Bronze Age, about 3,500 years ago. A 10,000-year-old bear shoulder bone has also been discovered.