Roman gem on display in Colchester found to be centuries older than initially thought

Colchester Castle has now re-opened and visitors will need to book a time slot in advancePicture: C

The gem will be on display at Colchester Castle when the venue reopens - Credit: COLCHESTER BOROUGH COUNCIL

An "incredible" engraved Roman gem that was unearthed in Colchester has been revealed to be centuries older than originally thought.

The gem – known as an intaglio – was excavated at Gosbecks Archaeological Park in 1995 by the Colchester Archaeological Trust, close to the remains of a previously-discovered Romano-Celtic temple.

The deep red stone was mounted in an iron ring and was originally used by its owner to seal letters and documents.

Research in Colchester and Ipswich Museums' Collections Online database has now revealed the artefact can now be dated 150 to 250 years earlier than previously thought.

The engraved Roman gem, which is between 150 and 250 years older than originally believed

The engraved Roman gem, which is between 150 and 250 years older than originally believed - Credit: Douglas Atfield

Expert Rev Dr Martin Henig identified the armed figure on the stone as the god Mars ,but the shape and style of the ring and its gem date it to the second century BC and no later than the first century BC.


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Museum bosses have said the ring likely belonged to an influential figure who arrived on British shores thousands of years ago.

The gem is available to view by the public online and will be on display at Colchester Castle when the venue reopens.

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Glynn Davis, senior curator for Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service, said: "This is a fascinating object that potentially suggests a long, personal history, changing many hands over centuries, before it reached the capital of Roman Britain.

"Mars was, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a popular deity amongst the Roman military and this ring might have arrived in Britain on the finger of a legionary, having been handed down generations of their family.

"The revised date of the ring provides the attractive alternative that it was owned by an influential Iron Age Briton, perhaps a hi-ranking chieftain.

"The name of pre-Roman Colchester – Camulodunum, meaning ‘Fortress of the War God’ – gives an insight into how popular and important the god was to the Iron Age Britons of Essex."

Julie Young, Colchester Borough Council's portfolio holder for culture, added: "Colchester, Britain’s First City, continues to present us with clues to how our ancestors lived and behaved.

"This incredible object provides a fascinating glimpse back into our historic past. Having such a precious item in the Museum's collection that can now be dated so far back in time to the Roman Republic, is simply incredible."

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