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Roman statues and their heads

30 October 2021

At www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-10141417/ … sent in by Gary. An archaeological survey is being undertaken along the route of the HS2 high speed railway to nowhere. The remains of St Marys church in what used to be the village of Stoke Mandeville has been the object of intense excavation. The church went out of use as a result of the movement of the village a mile or so away, and the construction of a new church there not so long ago. The old church was too far away for parishioners to walk to on a Sunday morning even though it was close to the local manor – and a watermill along a small stream. In fact, there are lots of bumps and lumps around the old church that were surveyed by amateur archaeologists some years ago but are generally ignored in the HS2 archaeological survey [but may be subject to publication in the aftermath]. Why the village was abandoned is an unknown but it was the fate of a lot of medieval settlements as a result of depopulation because of the Black Death plague. It may have been at the whim of the local lord of the manor. This happened on numerous occasions in lowland England but is not necessarily well documented. The lord of the manor may have gone out of favour with the king, is another possibility, and his lands might have been confiscated. There are all sorts of reasons but after the new church was built the fabric of the old church gradually deteriorated and in the 1950s it was blown up as an exercise by the local civil defence group and has lain in ruins for around 70 years. As it involved no landowner problems and the fact the church yard had a lot of coffins and bodies that had to be moved prior to the train line coming right through the centre of the church yard, it has been intensively investigated by the professional archaeology team hired by the HS2 people – using ample government funds and conspicuously avoiding any input from the local archaeological society based at the County Museum in Aylesbury. I suppose a lot of money is involved in the publication of the findings and the professionals don't want to share the loot.

Having described the site some interesting archaeology has been unearthed. Firstly, after taking apart the foundations of the old church they discovered it had been preceded by a Saxon church. Now, digging further into the ground, investigating a circular feature as they don't seem to intend to go any further, they have come across three Roman period statues that had been buried, with their heads separate from their torsos. This might have involved a ritualistic closing down of the site but the dismemberment may have been down to other factors, such as toppling the statues in order to bury them. We won't ever know the whys and wherefores. The train track is due to be built on top of the excavations per the rules introduced on pre-building regulations on major sites, such as greenfield areas used for new housing estates. Excavations, often in a hurry, are done by statute. I assume they are close to the deadline they have been given and the Roman layer will be untouched. Too much time spent on the graves and coffins, and cataloguing the building stones used in the old church. It was a very long winded affair. Members of the public were invited last year to look at their handiwork – but there was nothing very exciting. Now, close to the end of the excavation they have stumbled on something that might imply the Saxon church was built on the site of a former Roman villa that evolved into the local manorial estate.

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