July 4, 2013
Stone Head Of Unknown Roman God Found In Ancient British Trash Heap
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As the Romans began to lose their grip on the European part of their empire in the second and third centuries AD, strange things were afoot, and a newly discovered carved stone head suggests Roman settlers living in England were beginning to embrace the local gods, according to UK archeologists.
Alex Kirton, a freshman archeology student at Durham University, found the 1,800-year-old artifact in an ancient Roman rubbish heap in northern England. The head is about 8 inches by 4 inches in size and was buried in what archeologists say were probably the remains of a bath house.
Made of sandstone, the artifact was immediately associated with the Celtic military god Antenociticus. A similar head, which included an identifying inscription, was found near Newcastle in 1862.
"It is probably the head of a Roman god - we can't be sure of his name, but it does have similarities to the head of Antenociticus found at Benwell in the 19th century," said David Petts, an archeologist at Durham University.
"We found the Binchester head close to where a small Roman altar was found two years ago," Petts said. "We think it may have been associated with a small shrine in the bath house and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the 4th century AD."
He added that the team is continuing to explore the building and the site where the head came from in order to gain more insight into Roman life at Binchester and the empire's northern frontier.
"(The head is) also an excellent insight into the life and beliefs of the civilians living close to the Roman fort," Petts said. "The style is a combination of classical Roman art and more regional Romano-British traditions. It shows the population of the settlement taking classical artistic traditions and making them their own."
David Mason, the lead archaeologist, said the new discovery is a welcome addition to the Binchester sculpture collection, which includes those of other Roman gods.
"This one however appears to represent a local Romano-Celtic god of the type frequently found in the frontier regions of the Empire and probably representing the conflation of a classical deity with its local equivalent," he said. "The similarity with the head of Antenociticus is notable, but this could be a deity local to Binchester."
Petts noted there are some African similarities in the newly discovered head, but pointed out the connection could be purely superficial.
"This is something we need to consider deeply," he said. "If it is an image of an African, it could be extremely important, although this identification is not certain," said Petts.
"The African style comparison may be misleading as the form is typical of that produced by local craftsmen in the frontier region," Mason added.
The new discovery is part of a five-year dig currently going on at the Binchester Roman Fort. The fort, which the Romans called Vinovia, has been home to a major excavation since 2009. Although the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed around the fifth century, evidence at the fort suggests it continued to be used well into medieval times.