AN 11,000-year-old Stone Age pendant has been discovered by a Widnes archaeology student.

Tom Bell, 21, from Farnworth, unearthed the rare object during excavations at the early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire.

The piece of shale has been hailed ‘the earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain’ by the Yorkshire Museum in York where it is on display until May 5.

Tom, a former student at the University of Chester, said: “I discovered the pendant on the last few days of the excavation.

“I was taking back the last of the lake sediments when I noticed a smooth stone.

“It looked pretty normal at first. The mud covered the perforation and decoration so I didn’t know what it was until I picked it up and had a look.”

The artwork on the tiny fragile pendant features a series of lines engraved on its surface which archaeologists believe may represent a tree, map, leaf or tally marks.

“Once I realised it had decoration on, it was more exciting,” added Tom, who is studying for an MSc and hopes to work in osteoarchaeology, the study of human and animal bones from archaeological sites.

“It’s much more exciting when you start to see how excited everyone else is.”

Research teams from the universities of York, Manchester and Chester used digital microscopy techniques to examine the pendant.

Professor Nicky Milner from York University thinks the it may have been used for ‘spiritual personal protection’.

“It was incredibly exciting to discover such a rare object,” she said.

“It is unlike anything we have found in Britain from this period.

“One possibility is that the pendant belonged to a shaman.”

Dr Barry Taylor, co-director of the excavation, said: “Tom was excavating deposits that formed in what would have been an area of swamp about 11,000 years ago.

“It’s always great to see students find things. Tom has been volunteering on our excavations for years.

“Because this is something that a person wore it allows us to have a direct and tangible engagement with people from the past and this helps to bring archaeology alive.”