Roman sculptures found in abandoned church on high-speed rail route

Historic items discovered at medieval church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire

One of the Roman sculptures found at St Mary's Church in Stoke Mandeville. Photo: PA
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Archaeologists digging on the route of the HS2 high-speed railway have uncovered an “astounding” set of Roman sculptures.

The discovery was made at an abandoned medieval church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire.

Two complete busts of what appear to be a man and a woman were found, along with a sculpture of a child's head.

A hexagonal glass Roman jug was also uncovered with large pieces still intact, despite being in the ground for what is thought to be more than 1,000 years.

A vessel on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the only known comparable item.

“They’re hugely significant because they’re really rare finds in the UK," said Dr Rachel Wood, lead archaeologist for HS2 contractor Fusion JV.

“To find one stone head or one set of shoulders would be really astonishing, but we have two complete heads and shoulders as well as a third head.

“They’re even more significant to us archaeologically because they’ve actually helped change our understanding of the site here before the medieval church was built.”

The discoveries at the old St Mary’s Church have been sent to a laboratory for specialist cleaning and analysis, including dating.

“They are so significant and so remarkable that we would certainly hope that they will end up on display for the local community to see,” Dr Wood said.

Experts believe the location was used as a Roman mausoleum before the Norman church was built in the year 1080.

About 3,000 bodies have been removed from the church and will be reburied at a new site.

Updated: October 28, 2021, 11:17 PM