A rare wooden Romano-British figure, possibly deliberately placed in a ditch as an offering to the gods, has been uncovered during work on the HS2 railway project by archaeologists from Infra Archaeology working for Fusion JV.
The substantial figure, measuring 67cm in height, was discovered in July 2021 in Buckinghamshire, southern England. Well-preserved thanks to the lack of oxygen in the waterlogged ditch, it shows a standing human in tunic-like clothing. The clothing and the style of the carving have led archaeologists to believe it is from the early Roman period, an idea that is supported by sherds of pottery, dating to AD 43-70, also found in the ditch. A small, broken-off fragment of the figure recovered from the ditch is being radiocarbon dated to clarify its age, and isotope analysis may shed light on the origins of the wood.
Iain Williamson, archaeologist with Fusion JV, said, ‘The preservation of details carved into the wood such as the hair and tunic really start to bring the individual depicted to life. Not only is the survival of a wooden figure like this extremely rare for the Roman period in Britain, but it also raises new questions about this site, who does the wooden figure represent, what was it used for, and why was it significant to the people living in this part of Buckinghamshire during the 1st century AD?’
Some carved wooden images seem to have been gifts to the gods, and this may be the case with the Buckinghamshire find too, though this remains uncertain. Wooden figures from prehistoric and Roman Britain are rare, but another recent wooden find (from 2019) is a limb, probably a Roman votive offering, from the bottom of a well in Northampton.
Elsewhere, in south Northamptonshire, MOLA Headland archaeologists on the railway project have been investigating an Iron Age village that developed into a prosperous Roman trading settlement. The team uncovered 30 roundhouses at the Blackgrounds site (so-called for its black soil), which expanded over time to include new stone buildings and new roads in the Roman period. A 10m-wide Roman road ran through the site, allowing ample space for carts to transport goods.
The remains of buildings probably used in industry, including workshops and kilns, have been unearthed, as have wells, and 300 Roman coins, which seem to have been lost or discarded. Other finds include glass vessels, decorated pottery, jewellery, traces of substances used for make-up, and half a set of shackles, perhaps a sign of enslavement or of the imprisonment of criminals at the site.