Apipeclay figurine of the Roman goddess Venus is among several significant finds recently unearthed in Gloucester by Cotswold Archaeology. The discovery was made during excavations in advance of engineering work on an underground pipeline at what will become The Forum, a modern social and digital space being developed in the former Kings Quarter of the city by Gloucester City Council and Reef Group.
Dating to the 1st or 2nd century AD, the moulded statuette is just 17cm high and has been interpreted as a religious icon, probably imported from elsewhere in the Roman Empire. ‘We know pieces like these were made in central France and the Rhineland/Mosel region of Germany during the 1st and 2nd centuries,’ said Andrew Armstrong, City Archaeologist at Gloucester City Council. The artefact was excavated alongside the stone foundations of buildings that may once have belonged to a Roman suburb beyond Gloucester’s city walls, and indeed the object ‘would most likely have stood in someone’s home shrine for the goddess,’ Andrew explained.
Nevertheless, the team found the figurine, the base of which is damaged, in a large, Roman-era pit (possibly a well), which had been backfilled with domestic waste, said Marino Cardelli, Cotswold Archaeology’s Project Officer and Lead Archaeologist at the site. ‘My current personal interpretation is that the broken base of the figurine (an ancient fracture) suggests the item was no longer in good enough condition to be used as an offering or to be displayed in a shrine, hence why it was deliberately thrown into a pit,’ Marino told CA. ‘We know that Roman gods were particularly picky, and no one would have offered a broken, although really nice, figurine to the goddess of beauty!’
In addition to the Roman finds, the archaeologists uncovered evidence of the city’s medieval Carmelite friary (1268-1538), including floor tiles, foundations to the south, and a stone coffin containing two burials. It is hoped that the Venus figurine and the medieval stone coffin will be put on display in Gloucester for the benefit of the local community. We will be covering the excavations in greater detail in a future issue of Current Archaeology – watch this space!