A centuries-old artifact in Essex, U.K., was damaged over the weekend when a family placed a child in an ancient coffin to snap a photo.
As a result, the fragile 800-year-old artifact suffered minor damage. An existing crack in the sandstone coffin grew after a shard fell off.
Staff at the Prittlewell Priory museum said they heard a loud bang on Sunday during the incident and observed a family quickly shuffling out of the museum. Other visitors at the busy tourist site informed staff what had happened.
The coffin was found on the museum grounds in 1921 and is believed to have been buried with a prominent monk from the priory. It was already in three pieces before Sunday’s incident.
The damage is expected to cost approximately $160 to repair.
“To prevent future damage we also now feel that the coffin needs to be completely enclosed and the curatorial team are assessing how this can best be done,” said Ann Holland, executive councillor for culture for Southend-on-Sea Borough.
Claire Reed, the museum’s conservator, called the incident “upsetting.”
“The care of our collections is of paramount importance to us and this isolated incident has been upsetting for the museum’s service, whose staff strive to protect Southend’s heritage for the benefit of our visitors and enrichment of their experience within our historic sites,” she said in a statement.
Holland said the exhibit area has been closed but will open as soon as the repairs are complete.
“In the meantime, we would like to remind all visitors that they should observe and respect any barriers and signs in place that are there to protect our important heritage and history,” she said.
In an interview with the BBC, Reed said the incident was a surprise to all.
“You can put all the risk assessments in place but you really don’t expect people to try to get into the artifacts,” she said.
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