Barry Cunliffe, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University, called the sword 'priceless' and 'crucial to our understanding'. The theft from Peterborough Museum was detected late on Friday when staff found a case broken open.
Don Mackreth, the archaeologist who found it near the town 10 years ago, feared it had been stolen to order and that it could already be out of the country. He said: 'The British Museum would have snapped it up, but I thought it should be displayed locally. It showed the methods of manufacture - a type of pattern welding - far more clearly than any other Iron Age sword in Britain. The scabbard was untarnished, a masterpiece of casting. In the light of the theft, I am having second thoughts about whether it should have been kept in Peterborough.'
Ron McKenna, of Peterborough Archaeological Group, blamed shortage of funds at the museum, run by Peterborough council. He said there were no security cameras and few alarms.