An 800 year-old stone coffin has been broken after a child was lifted inside it for a photograph at a museum.
Reckless visitors hoisted the youngster over a protective barrier and put them inside the ‘historically unique’ open casket.
But part of it tumbled over and a chunk fell off at Prittlewell Priory Museum in Southend, Essex.
Those responsible were caught on CCTV but ran off without reporting it.
Staff were “shocked and upset” at the “unbelievable incident”, said conservator Claire Reed, who now has the job of repairing it.
She said: “Staff heard a thump and that was the first indication something had happened.
“It was one of those isolated, terrible incidents.
“It’s a very important artefact and historically unique to us as we don’t have much archaeology from the priory.”
The sandstone coffin was found in the grounds of the priory in 1921 complete with a skeleton which could have been a senior monk.
Mrs. Reed added: “It is repairable, and that’s the good thing.
“You can put all the risk assessments in place but you really don’t expect people to try to get into the artefacts.
“We will have to completely enclose it in the future.”