Today's Object of the Week is an item of Roman armour set to dazzle visitors to the British Museum.

A huge fire at barrack block at a Roman fort in the North East is the reason why today's Object of the Week is in such remarkably good condition.

The iron ring-mail is a complete Roman chain-mail shirt which was lost during a huge fire at Arbeia, South Shields Roman Fort, in the late third or early fourth century.

It was overlooked when the burnt-down barrack was demolished before rebuilding work could take place and is unusually well-preserved.

The Northern Echo: Close up detail of the Arbeia Roman ring-mail shirtClose up detail of the Arbeia Roman ring-mail shirt (Image: TYNE AND WEAR ARCHIVES & MUSEUM)

Made up of more than 50,000 links, the preservation is so good that the heads of the rivets in the links - less than one millimetre across - are still visible.

The shirt is of standard Roman construction with four links looped onto one and with alternate lines of riveted and solid links.

The solid links have an external diameter of seven millimetres and are possibly closed by welding, whilst the riveted links are often slightly larger - eight millimetres in external diameter - and are frequently oval rather than circular. A number of the links have lost their rivets and the terminals have sprung slightly apart.

Only a few complete Roman ring-mail shirts have been recovered in the country.

This one was recovered during the 1997 excavations at Arbeia which concentrated on the barrack which had been destroyed by fire in the late or early fourth century.

The shirt had been sandwiched between layers of hot, very dry daub and therefore sealed which is why it was in such good condition when recovered. It is one of the best surviving pieces of Roman iron to be found at Arbeia.

The Northern Echo: Alex Croom, curator at Arbeia, South Shields, holding the ring-mail shirt which is presently on

Arbeia - a UNESCO World Heritage site -  is lending two significant artefacts, including the ring-mail shirt, to the British Museum for a forthcoming exhibition about life in the Roman Army. 

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The British Museum is has borrowed the artefacts for its major new exhibition Legion: life in the Roman army which will look at what it was like to be in one of the most elite fighting forces of all time.

The exhibition explores the reality of daily life for the men, women and children who were part of the machine which allowed Rome to master its vast empire. It runs until June 23. 

Arbeia, South Shields Roman Fort is currently closed to the public for the winter, re-opening on March 25.