London, September 19 : Scientists at the Liverpool University have declared that a tiny silver cross, which was hailed as the earliest Christian artifact by historians, is most certainly a fake.
A replica of the cross was worn around the neck by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey as a symbol of his office.
But the cross, which was found in a grave within the area of the small Roman city at Shepton Mallet in Somerset, is almost certainly a fake.
According to a report in the Telegraph, scientists at Liverpool University, who conducted tests using new technology, have concluded that they are "99 per cent" certain the cross or amulet does not date from Roman times.
The results are an embarrassment for civic leaders in Shepton Mallett, who, anticipating a rush of Christian pilgrims, named a street and theatre after the amulet when it was unearthed in 1990.
The cross convinced historians they had found the earliest Christian burial site in Europe. They regarded it as the key to how Christianity spread through the late Roman Empire.
It now appears the jewellery may have been crafted by an amateur silversmith as one theory is that it was planted in Shepton Mallet by opponents of a warehouse development who wanted to give greater significance to the site.
The cross or amulet comprises a central disc with a cross shape made from double silver beads.
The front of the disc is marked with the 'ChiRho'; an early Christian symbol the first two letters of the Greek for Christ, incorporating the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, which are similar to the letters X and P in the English alphabet.
The markings led archaeologists to believe they had stumbled across a rare Christian artifact.
The British Museum carried out a series of tests on the metal composition of the amulet in the 1990s. Attempts to date the object proved inconclusive, which led to the doubts being raised over its authenticity.
But, it has now been declared a fake after tests at the University of Liverpool as part of a programme of work involving the analysis of Roman silver coins.
According to Stephen Minnitt, head of museums at Somerset County Council, which authorised the tests, "Experts are now 99 per cent certain that the amulet is not genuine. It is pretty clear we are dealing with a hoax."
The amulet is now thought to be a modification of a Roman brooch dug up in Sussex 100 years ago.