Archaeologists have discovered an 1,800-year-old carved stone head of a Roman god under an ancient rubbish dump at Binchester Roman Fort, near the town of Bishop Auckland in County Durham, 260 miles north of London.
The stone head, which measures about 8 inches by 4 inches, was found buried under the debris of what may once have been a bath house by Alex Kirton, a Durham University archaeology student.
According to the researchers, the stone dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD and could have been worshipped as a source of inspiration in military affairs.
“We found the Binchester head close to where a small Roman altar was found two years ago. We think it may have been associated with a small shrine in the bath house and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the 4th century AD,” Dr David Petts, a lecturer in archeology at Durham University, said in a statement, on Thursday.
“It is probably the head of a Roman god -- we can’t be sure of his name, but it does have similarities to the head of Antenociticus found at Benwell in the 19th century.”
Although the researchers are unsure about the identity of the stone head, they are hopeful that it will help them better understand Roman life at Binchester and the Roman Empire’s frontier in Northern England.
“It's also an excellent insight into the life and beliefs of the civilians living close to the Roman fort. The style is a combination of classical Roman art and more regional Romano-British traditions. It shows the population of the settlement taking classical artistic traditions and making them their own,” Petts said.
The Binchester head is African in appearance, but Dr Petts, who is also associate director of Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, said experts were unsure whether these features were deliberate or coincidental.
The Binchester dig is a joint project between Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, site owner Durham County Council, Stanford University’s Archaeology Centre and the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland.
“As an archaeology student this is one of the best things and most exciting things that could have happened,” 19-year-old Kirton said. “It was an incredible thing to find in a lump of soil in the middle of nowhere – I've never found anything remotely exciting as this.”
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