England is getting a new high-speed rail system installed - which, for certain parts of the world, perhaps hardly constitutes news, but it's what some archaeologists found while digging that caught my attention. Three Roman busts and other rare artifacts were unearthed at the site of a former Norman-era church in Stoke Mandeville, a village located about 46 miles northwest of London.
The excavations at the site had already been underway for about 7 months when the statues made their surprise appearance. "The statues are incredibly well preserved," said Rachel Wood, the lead archaeologist of the dig. "You really get an impression of the people they depict - literally looking into the faces of the past is a unique experience."
The three stone busts, located near the foundations of a former Anglo-Saxon tower, were uncovered in a circular ditch. A Normal church known as St. Mary's stood there until the mid-19th century and dates back to around 1080 CE, according to the BBC. The archaeological work was being done in preparation for HS2, a high-speed railway network that will eventually connect London, the Midlands, the North, and Scotland.
The busts depicted a male and a female, and what appears to be a child. Two of the busts had matching torsos, but the third head didn't, which is why it's currently only archaeologists' best guess that it's a child. In addition to the busts, the team found fragments of a hexagon-shaped Roman glass jug. According to news reports, these sorts of things are very rare, with the only example being a completely in-tact vessel (found in Tunisia) that's currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Roman cremation urns, painted wall plaster, and roof tiles were just some of the many other items recovered.
According to Wood, this dig has left her and her team wondering 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."
The history of the site is starting to come into focus. The oldest layers at the Stoke Mandeville site point to a Bronze Age burial mound, and many more things of interest. From here, the statues will be cleaned and examined at the lab. The researchers are hoping to find evidence of pigments on the stone busts and torsos that would indicate the color of paints used to decorate them. As of right now, there is no determined "final destination" for these artifacts, but it seems likely they will be on public display at a local museum.
What's one of your favorite archaeological finds? Share with me!