An urn containing the ashes of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud was “severely damaged” during an attempted theft at Golders Green Crematorium.

Cemetery workers discovered the 3rd Century Greek vase, which contains the remains of the late pioneering psychoanalyst and his wife Martha, in pieces on the floor on New Year’s Day.

The valuable ornate urn was understood to have been on public display indoors at the Hoop Lane cemetery, which remains open to visitors between 8.30am and 4pm in winter.

Investigating officers have so far released little information on the crime but believe the attempted theft occurred sometime between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Detective Constable Daniel Candler said: “This was a despicable act by a callous thief. Even leaving aside the financial value of the irreplaceable urn and the historical significance of to whom it related, the fact that someone set out to take an object knowing it contained the last remains of a person defies belief.”

Sigmund Freud died on September 23, 1939, at the age of 83. He is revered for his pioneering work in psychoanalysis techniques and remains an important theorist for psychology students today.

The cemetery said it would not be commenting on the incident when contacted by the Times Series this afternoon.