Excavator operator uncovers 1,800-year-old Roman statue

An excavator operator in the UK inadvertently uncovered a 1,800-year-old Roman statue during car park construction works.

Greg Crawley with the Roman statue Greg Crawley with the Roman statue (Image: Burghley House)

Greg Crawley was operating an excavator in spring last year when he uncovered the marble head of a Roman woman that dates back to the first or second century CE.

Two weeks later, a marble bust was discovered in the same site at the stately home Burghley House, near the city of Peterborough.

How the head and bust ended up buried in the park is still a mystery. However, the Roman head was found to have originally been attached to the bust using an iron dowel that had been added later.

This type of adaptation was often carried out by Italian dealers in antiquities during the late 18th century to make excavated ancient fragments more attractive to aristocrats travelling in Italy on what was known as the Grand Tour.

A former owner of Burghley House, Brownlow, the ninth Earl of Exeter, took two tours to Italy in the 1760s, when he purchased many antiquities. It is thought he could have purchased the sculpture there before bringing it to Burghley.

It is unclear how long it remained hidden underground before being discovered in late April 2023 when the new car park was nearly complete.

Following Crawley’s discovery, the head and bust were taken to Burghley’s curator before being sent to a professional conservator who was able to clean and consolidate the figure, before reassembling both pieces as they had been intended. The find was also reported to the British Museum, which maintains a database of such discoveries.

The find is now on display at Burghley House alongside other sculptures that were purchased by the ninth Earl.

Crawley said, “I had a real shock as the digger bucket rolled over what I thought was a big stone to reveal a face. When I picked it up, I realised it was a head of a statue. I couldn’t believe it when they told me it was a Roman marble statue. It was an amazing feeling to have found something so old and special – definitely my best ever discovery.”


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