Police have recovered two nationally-important early medieval sculptured stones which were taken from a church on the outskirts of Darlington nearly four years ago.

Detectives were alerted to the discovery of items earlier this month and experts have since confirmed they do match those taken from the grounds of All Saints Church, in Sockburn, in March 2016.

The whereabouts of the artefacts – a fragment of a carved bear’s head, possibly from a hogback, a Viking grave marker dating to the 9th or 10th centuries and a fragment of a Medieval cross slab carved with a small sword – have remained unknown until now.

They were found near Darlington on Tuesday, December 3 after officers received fresh information.

A fragment of Viking runic inscription also dating to the same period, which was taken at the same time, is still missing.All Saints Church, in Sockburn, which stands near the North Yorkshire border is a national monument and a rare surviving example of a pre and post-Norman Conquest church site and graveyard.It contains a rare collection of late 9th and 10th century Viking sculptured stone, unrivalled in the country.The church discovered the loss of the items in March 2016 and notified police, but it’s thought they could have gone missing at any point since September 2015.

Officers have now returned the recovered stones to the Church of England. Detective Chief Inspector Lee Gosling, of Durham Constabulary, said: “These items have significant historical value and their whereabouts have been unknown for nearly four years so it is fantastic that they have been found.

“We are continuing to investigate the circumstances and I am appealing to anyone with any information that may help us piece together their whereabouts over the past few years to get in touch.”

Anyone with any information is asked to call Durham Constabulary on 101, quoting incident reference DJ1601964 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555111.

IMAGES: The photographs show the stones after they were recovered by officers.