HS2 archaeologists have unearthed a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ discovery of rare Roman statues under a medieval church in Stoke Mandeville
In the final stages of the excavation, HS2 archaeologists were uncovering a circular ditch around what was thought to be the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon tower.
As they dug down, they uncovered three stylistically Roman stone busts. Two of the busts comprise of a head and torso which had been split before deposition, and the other just the head.
The two complete statues appear to be one female adult and one male adult, with an additional head of a child.
Alongside 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, with on-site archaeologists able to remove what they believe to be almost all 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.
‘A once in a lifetime site’
Dr Rachel Wood, lead archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: “For us to end the dig with these utterly astounding finds is beyond exciting.
“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. 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.”
Mike Court, lead archaeologist at HS2 added: “HS2’s unprecedented archaeology programme has given us new insights into Britain’s history, providing evidence of where and how our ancestors lived.
“These extraordinary Roman statues are just some of the incredible artefacts uncovered between London and the West Midlands. As HS2 builds for Britain’s future, we are uncovering and learning about the past, leaving a legacy of knowledge and discovery.”
The artefacts are due to be taken to a specialist laboratory where they will be cleaned and examined, with the final destination for the finds to be determined in due course.