Archaeologists have uncovered three remarkable Roman busts during excavations at the old St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire, ahead of the construction of HS2.
Earlier this month, excavation work beneath the Norman church – carried out by HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor Fusion JV, in partnership with L-P Archaeology – revealed what were thought to be the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon tower church.
While excavating a circular ditch around this structure, the team uncovered three stylistically Roman stone busts.
The first bust comprises the bisected head and torso of a female adult, the second comprises the bisected head and torso of a male adult, and the third depicts just the head of a child.
It is known that disfiguring Roman statues – namely removing their heads – was commonly practiced before pulling them down.
Dr Rachel Wood, Lead Archaeologist for Fusion JV, said: ‘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.
‘For us to end the dig with these utterly astounding finds is beyond exciting.’
Other finds include a well-preserved hexagonal glass Roman jug, large roof tiles, painted wall plaster, and Roman cremation urns.
Archaeologists now believe St Mary’s church was constructed directly over the demolished remains of a square Roman building – possibly a mausoleum. The team say the finds are too ornate to suggest the site was a domestic building.
Cleaning and examination of the artefacts will now be carried out in a specialist laboratory. This will include analysis of pigmentation identified within the creases of the statues, which is hoped to shed light on whether they were originally painted.
Look out for further in-depth analyses of these incredible finds in the next issues of Minerva and Current Archaeology, which will also be made available on The Past.