UK’s HS2 high-speed train line divulges secrets of buried Roman statues in Buckinghamshire

Excavations for the UK’s high-speed train line HS2 have unearthed some stunning Roman statues beneath St Mary’s Church at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire.

The church was built in 1080 AD, after the Normans conquered Britain and swept away Anglo-Saxon rule. A team from LP-Archaeology working with the rail project’s enabling works contractor, Fusion-JV, discovered two complete statues of a male and female in Roman dress, along with a child’s head. The statues are thought to have been buried for at least 1,000 years. The heads and torsos of the adult statues had been separated, said HS2’s lead archaeologist, Dr Rachel Wood – who added that the find was “extremely rare” in the UK. A green glass hexagonal jug that could have been underground for 1,000 years was also excavated.

Green glass jug excavated at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire (Image: HS2)

“It’s really amazing to find one stone head or one shoulder set, but there are two full heads and shoulders, and a third head.

“They are archaeologically even more important to us because they helped to actually change our understanding of the place here before the medieval church was built.”

Dr Rachel Wood reunites a head with its torso (Image: HS2)

Head of Heritage for HS2 Ltd, Helen Wass, added:

“HS2’s unparalleled archaeological programme is well underway – and the start of works at St Mary’s offers an exceptional opportunity for archaeologists to uncover and shine a light on what life was like for the community of Stoke Mandeville over such a timespan.

“All artefacts and human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect – and our discoveries will be shared with the community through open days and expert lectures.

“HS2’s archaeology programme seeks to engage with all communities both local and nationally to share the information and knowledge gained as well as leaving a lasting archival and skills legacy.”

The head of the female statue has a braided hairstyle in classic Roman style. Dr Wood added:

“They are archaeologically even more important to us because they helped to actually change our understanding of the place here before the medieval church was built.”

The statues are thought to be of wealthy local Romans rather than emperors – and the find gives further insight into life in Roman Britain and the history of the area of Stoke Mandeville before St Mary’s Church was built.

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