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Rare statue could help unearth secrets of Long Melford's Roman past

PUBLISHED: 14:38 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 14:38 26 April 2016

John Broughton is pictured with the Venus statue at the Long Melford Heritage Centre.

John Broughton is pictured with the Venus statue at the Long Melford Heritage Centre.

Archant

A rare find unearthed in a garden in Long Melford could point to the village being the "missing link" in a chain of Roman forts, it has been claimed.

Kenneth Dodd, John Broughton and John Nunn are pictured with the finds from the recent dig.Kenneth Dodd, John Broughton and John Nunn are pictured with the finds from the recent dig.

A six inch tall figurine dating from the first or second century, known as a ‘pseudo Venus’, was dug up by volunteer archaeologists while they were working on a test pit at a property in the south of the village.

According to a county council archaeologist, the statue would have had religious significance and is a very “unusual” find.

Local heritage centre volunteers John Broughton, Kenneth Dodd and John Nunn came across the statue while they were carrying out a rescue dig in a garden that was due to be landscaped.

“Ken was in the trench digging at the time and John was washing and cleaning finds when he handed me two lumps of what appeared to be white chalk,” Mr Nunn recalled.

“We were all very excited when one of them turned out to be the figurine. We did some checking and discovered that fragments of similar statues had been found in Colchester, but nothing as whole as this one.”

According to Mr Nunn’s research, the only other place statues of this kind have been discovered is along Hadrian’s Wall.

He added: “Several are recorded as being found along Hadrian’s Wall where there was a series of Roman military forts and although we have no definitive proof that’s the case in Long Melford, it would have been an appropriate site for a Roman fort.

“Research has led me to believe that it could be the missing link in a string of forts across East Anglia which includes known sites at Colchester and Ixworth. The forts were usually sited within a day’s march of each other so it would fit.

“We are quite keen to do further research to see if we can solve the riddle as to how the statue came to be in Long Melford.”

It will now be sketched and analysed by members of the county council’s archaeology team before eventually going on show in Long Melford. Senior archaeological officer Fay Minter, who is based in Bury St Edmunds, described the statue find as an “usual find”.

“In test pits of this size, volunteers would normally find animal bones, pottery or building material,” she said.

“The Venus statue, which would have had religious significance, is missing her head and would have been standing on a pedestal but she is reasonably well intact.

“We know there’s a Roman town in Long Melford under the Medieval and modern village so this adds to the evidence we already have. To confirm that there was a Roman fort in Long Melford, we would have to make more early military finds such as armour or buckles.”

During the dig, the volunteers also found some pink Roman flooring known as ‘opus caementicum’, as well as Roman pottery. In 1970, Mr Nunn unearthed a blue glass Roman bowl in the village which is now on show in Ipswich Museum. The group is shortly due to start a week long ground radar survey of the area to see if they can locate any new Roman roads or buildings that could shine light on the recent discovery.

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