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‘Astonishing’ Roman Statues Unearthed in the Ruins of a Norman Church on the HS2 Route | Archeology


Statues of a Roman man, woman and child have been discovered by archaeologists in an abandoned medieval church on the route of the HS2 high-speed railway.

The find was “quite astounding,” according to Rachel Wood, the chief archaeologist at the Stoke Mandeville site in Buckinghamshire. “These are really rare finds in the UK,” she said.

“The statues are exceptionally well preserved and you really get a feel for the people they represent – literally looking at the faces of the past is a unique experience.”

Three heads of statues and two shoulders were unearthed at the excavation site. Photograph: HS2 / PA

A hexagonal Roman glass jug was also discovered. Although they had been in the ground for what is believed to be over 1,000 years, large pieces were intact. The only known comparable item is a ship on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The statues were unearthed in the ruins of a Norman church, where a team of archaeologists have been working for six months.

The Sainte-Marie church was built in 1080 and renovated in the 13th, 14th and 17th centuries. It was abandoned in 1880, and demolished in 1966 after being declared unsafe. Its ruins have become overgrown.

In May, archaeologists and engineers began removing the church’s remaining structure and excavating the cemetery which has been in use for 900 years, with the last burial recorded in 1908.

Experts believe the site was used as a Roman mausoleum before the Norman church was built. Around 3,000 bodies have been removed and will be reburied at a new site.

Wood said the discovery of the statues and the jug “makes us wonder what else might be buried under the churches of medieval England’s villages. It truly is a once in a lifetime site and we are all eager to hear what more experts can tell us about these incredible statues and the history of the site before the Norman church was built.

They were sent to a lab for specialized cleaning and analysis.

The excavation site at Saint Mary's Church, Stoke Mandeville.
The excavation site at Saint Mary’s Church, Stoke Mandeville. Photograph: HS2 / PA

Over 1,000 archaeologists have worked at over 60 sites along the HS2 route between London and the West Midlands over the past three years.

In Saint James’s Garden, near Euston station in central London, more than 50,000 skeletons were unearthed from a cemetery. In Birmingham, more than 6,500 skeletons have been found in an 18th century cemetery.

Archaeologists began work on the 150 mile route in 2018.

Mike Court, HS2’s chief archaeologist, said the Roman statues found at Stoke Mandeville were “just a few of the incredible artefacts unearthed between London and the West Midlands”.

He added: “HS2’s unprecedented archeology program has given us new perspectives on the history of Britain, providing evidence of where and how our ancestors lived. “

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