IRISH archaeologists have been left baffled by the 'bizarre' discovery of a 1,150-year-old Viking necklace in a Burren cave.
The necklace is the largest Viking necklace to be discovered in Ireland.
Dr Marion Dowd, of Sligo IT, is leading the excavation of Glencurran Cave in the Burren National Park, which she described as a "treasure trove" for archaeologists.
The necklace was one of the major items discovered in the dig and is described as a "stunning piece of jewellery" by Dr Dowd.
She said: "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 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 and 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, but that Limerick was one of the Irish cities that they did settle in 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.
"It is the largest cave excavation in Ireland and the finds have been enormously significant," she said.
Dr Dowd said that the cave has been excavated in 2004, 2008 and 2009 and said that she hopes to return there next summer.
She remarked: "It is a labour of love. It is where I spend my holidays."