Roman statues have been found under the site of a Norman church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, in what experts are calling a ‘once in a lifetime’ find.
Archaeologists for the HS2 railway uncovered the three stone busts beneath the ruins of the old St Mary’s church, which was demolished in 1966 for being unsafe.
Two of the figures are adults — a man and a woman, both of which have had their head split from their body — while the third is the head alone of a child.
The discovery of these amazing artefacts caused excitement amongst the team working on the site who described it as “uniquely remarkable for us as archaeologists”. The work has been carried out by HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor, Fusion JV, and their archaeological contactor, L-P Archaeology.
In addition to the statues, an incredibly well-preserved hexagonal glass Roman jug was also discovered. Despite being in the ground for what is thought to be over 1,000 years, the glass jug had large pieces still intact.
Archaeologists working at the site were able to remove what they believe to be almost all of the fragments.
The team can only find one comparison for this, a completely intact vessel which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Other finds include large roof tiles, painted wall plaster, and Roman cremation urns.
‘For us to end the dig with these utterly astounding finds is beyond exciting,’ said Rachel Wood, the lead archaeologist for HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor, Fusion JV.
‘The statues are exceptionally well preserved, and you really get an impression of the people they depict — literally looking into the faces of the past is a unique experience,’ she continued.
‘Of course, it leads us to wonder what else might be buried beneath England’s medieval village churches.
‘This has truly been a once in a lifetime site and we are all looking forward to hearing what more the specialists can tell us about these incredible statues and the history of the site before the construction of the Norman church.’
As the dig at Stoke Mandeville comes to an end, the team working there have been able to piece together a more detailed analysis of the historic use of the site.
The site appears to be a natural mound, which has then been deliberately covered with soil to create a taller mound. It is possible this may have formed a Bronze Age burial site. It appears this was then replaced by a square building which may have originated in the Roman period.
Archaeologists now believe the square building that pre-dates the Norman church is a Roman mausoleum. Roman materials found in the ditch around are too ornate and not enough in number to suggest the site was a domestic building.
The Roman building appears to have been finally demolished by the Normans when building St Mary’s church, after possible reuse during the Saxon period.
The walls and demolition rubble of the Roman building are directly beneath the Norman foundations with no soil build up in between. Saxon pottery was also found in a cut of the ditch, as well as a Saxon coin. Further analysis of the data is being undertaken and the team hope to confirm this hypothesis.