More than 300 marble statues of Romans thought to have been put there as religious or royal decorations
Archaeologists believe they have unearthed the largest statue of the male pharaoh Tutankhamun, while uncovering more than 300 giant marble statues near to the University of Bristol where the HS2 railway line will run.
The excavation was carried out in the 18-acre Sheffield Crescent site near the town of Bridgwater, Somerset, to create a preserved site for a nine-mile walkway as part of the project.
A team of archaeologists reported “astonishingly good” finds, including multiple carvings of famed Roman architectural landmarks that are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old.
In one find, five fully elaborately carved marble statues thought to have been put there to decorate a temple were uncovered.
In the portico at the headquarters of the Emperor Diocletian in London are four fully ornate statues, said to be probably between 2,000 and 3,000 years old, of the lily-headed Hylian faun and lion-crowned hare. They are likely to have been originally removed from Rome or Constantinople.
Among the artists to have contributed to the massive sculptures are Michelangelo, Goya, Bernini and Raphael. There are even figures of the Pied Piper and St Basil the Great among the statues.
In the streets near to the museum would be seven smaller figures of the Bacchus fish god, along with one of Cleopatra and the pharaoh Tutankhamun.
More than 60 statues were also found, including two of Pompeii’s destruction and seven Pompeii-era wolf “stabber” figures.
Pulsating for once a quarter of the century, HS2 has stood in the way of archaeologists uncovering one of Somerset’s most significant architectural sites, a site the local mayor declared “one of the crown jewels of this most beautiful county”.
Greenwich Town parish council had applied to the archaeology authority for consent to dig near the site, which it had proposed would make a vast open space for pedestrians, a park for local children, and a disabled-friendly stretch of road.
The proposal, which was also backed by the borough of Bridgwater, was widely supported by residents, who found out about it only after HS2’s consultant released the first photographs of the discovery.
“Pleasure itself is a powerful one and the beautiful model it would provide cannot be underestimated,” said Rob Royle, Bridgwater’s local MP. “The small group of people making up HS2’s critics appear to see pleasure as being all relative, thus their reaction to what they see as something ugly.”
HM Revenue and Customs, which took the findings in its review, said the proposal “achieved a balance between the needs of the public and HS2”, and so did not pose a risk to archaeological protection, while the local authority said it would be an excellent location for walking as part of the walkpath to establish a preserved former Roman district of Bristol.
Responding to the discovery, Roger Smith, director of archaeology at HS2, said: “This is, without doubt, one of the most exciting discoveries of recent times. It represents a significant milestone in the project’s overall archaeological programme.”