Finds tray – Roman owl figurine

This copper-alloy owl figurine was found last year by a metal-detectorist on cultivated land in the Cotswolds, and it dates to the Roman period, when owls were associated with the goddess Minerva. The 6.8cm-tall bird is perched on a round, flanged pedestal, which is hollow in the middle, suggesting that the artefact may once have been mounted on top of another object, now lost.

IMAGE: Trustees of the British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme and Bristol City Council.

The owl’s small, pointed beak protrudes from the centre of its head, and there are hollow circles on either side of its face, representing eyes. These eyeholes, set within a heavy, textured brow ridge with vertical grooves, would once have been decorated with inlays designed to further animate the object.

The bird is shown standing upright, facing slightly to the right, with its legs spread, and its feet have three claws each, defined by tiny grooves. Its curving breast is decorated with ‘feathers’ – rows of semi-circles with radiating lines – while its tail, which sticks out towards the rear, is just as well-defined, having been embellished with linear grooves for tail feathers. The decoration on the bird’s wings, which are furled across its back, is worn, but traces of tighter curvilinear grooves, suggestive of wing feathers, can still be seen.

The object has patches of iron corrosion, and there is a 3.3mm hole above the owl’s right leg, thought to derive from the manufacturing process.

A similar owl figurine from Willingham Fen, striking a near-identical pose, is recorded in M J Green’s Corpus of Small Cult-Objects from the Military Areas of Roman Britain (1978). That item, interpreted as a religious or cult statue, has eyes inlaid with enamel.

For more information on the Cotswolds find and full references, see or search for GLO-452F33 on the PAS database.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is an initiative to encourage the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. For more information on the Scheme, and to browse its database of over 1.5 million finds, visit Information for this find was provided by Kurt Adams, Finds Liaison Officer for Gloucestershire and Avon, based at Bristol City Museum and Gloucestershire County Council.