IRISH archaeologists have unearthed an eight-foot tall pagan idol from a bog in the west of Ireland.
The 1,600-year-old artefact from the pre-Christian era was found in the townland of Gortnacrannagh, 6km north-east of the prehistoric royal site of Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon.
Experts believe the idol may have been used to mark a mystical place where humans believed they could connect with the Otherworld, or as a bog body sacrificed in place of a human.
"The Gortnacrannagh Idol was carved just over 100 years before St Patrick came to Ireland; it is likely to be the image of a pagan deity," said archaeologist Dr Eve Campbell, who directed the excavation.
"Our ancestors saw wetlands as mystical places where they could connect with their gods and the Otherworld.
"The discovery of animal bone alongside a ritual dagger suggests that animal sacrifice was carried out at the site and the idol is likely to have been part of these ceremonies."
Dr Campbell was part of a team from Archaeological Management Solutions (AMS) who discovered the idol earlier this month while working in advance of the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge Road Project.
Made in the Iron Age from a split oak trunk, the idol has a small human-shaped head at one end and a series of horizontal notches carved along its body.
At over two-and-a-half metres long, the Gortnacrannagh Idol is the largest of only 12 such idols found in Ireland.
Wood specialist Cathy Moore commented: "The lower ends of several figures were also worked to a point suggesting that they may once have stood upright.
"Their meaning is open to interpretation, but they may have marked special places in the landscape, have represented particular individuals or deities or perhaps have functioned as wooden bog bodies, sacrificed in lieu of humans."
The idol is currently in University College Dublin to undergo a three-year process or preservation, after which it will be given into the care of the National Museum of Ireland.
A replica is currently being made by AMS, in collaboration with members of the UCC Pallasboy Project and the UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture.
The replica will be used to better understand the idol and appreciate how it was made, before going on display at the Rathcroghan Centre in Tulsk, Co. Roscommon.