(CNN) - A shield made of bark dating back to between 255 and 395 BC has been found in Europe, according to new research. Although it only looks like pieces of wood now, they once fit together as a unique shield that was made during the Iron Age.
It was constructed of bark and laths, or thin strips of wood, and there is evidence that it was once painted in a red checkerboard design. Bark was used by prehistoric societies to make bowls and boxes, the researchers said, but this is the first weapon they've found.
The shield was first discovered by archaeologists in 2015 in Leicester at an Iron Age site where people once farmed near the Fosse Way Roman road. It was found in what was once a watering hole for livestock.
The shield was also damaged before it was discarded, likely by pointed spear tips. Researchers are currently studying the shield to see if this occurred in battle or was a kind of ritual destruction so the shield couldn't be used again.
"Although we know that bark has many uses, including making boxes and containers it doesn't survive well in the archaeological record," said Michael Bamforth in a statement, field archaeologist at the University of York. "Initially we didn't think bark could be strong enough to use as a shield to defend against spears and swords and we wondered if it could be for ceremonial use."
At first, the researchers were skeptical as to whether this shield could hold up in battle.
"It was only through experimentation that we realised it could be tough enough to protect against blows from metal weapons," Bamforth said. "Although a bark shield is not as strong as one made from wood or metal, it would be much lighter allowing the user much more freedom of movement."
The shield also had wooden edging rim and a woven boss, the round piece of material at the center of a shield, that protected the handle.
"The first time I saw the shield I was absolutely awed by it: the complex structure, the careful decorations, and the beautiful boss," said Rachel Crellin, a lecturer in late prehistory at the University of Leicester who studied the shield for impact damage.
CT scanning and 3D printing was used to study the shield and now it will be conserved by the York Archaeological Trust and placed in the British Museum.
"This truly astonishing and unparalleled artefact has given us an insight into prehistoric technology that we could never have guessed at," Bamforth said.
"This is an absolutely phenomenal object, one of the most marvelous, internationally important finds that I've encountered in my career," said Julia Farley, curator of British and European Iron Age Collections at the British Museum. "Bark and basketry objects were probably commonplace in ancient Britain, but they seldom survive, so to be able to study this shield is a great privilege. It holds a rich store of information about Iron Age society and craft practices."
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