Burghley House | Mysterious Roman relics unearthed in a thrilling…
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Burghley Treasures
5 Mar 2024

Mysterious Roman relics unearthed in a thrilling discovery at Burghley

A mysterious 1,800-year-old Roman statue has been unearthed during car park construction work.

Now taking pride of place on display within the dramatic Hell Staircase at Burghley House, the marble head of a Roman lady was discovered by a digger driver in spring 2023, closely followed two weeks later by a marble bust.

After being cleaned, experts dated the sculpture from the First or Second Century, with an iron dowel added later, allowing it to be attached to a bust or pedestal.

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.

It is believed that it was during one of the ninth Earl’s two tours to Italy in the 1760s, when he purchased many antiquities, that he brought the sculpture back to Burghley.

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But it remains a complete mystery how the head and bust ended up buried in the park, with explanations ranging from a bungled burglary to someone simply discarding the statue and it later being covered by soil.

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

It was during work on an overflow parking area, at the edge of the main site, that digger driver Greg Crawley noticed a pale object amongst the lifted earth, which turned out to be the head. Thrilled with the discovery of the ancient artifact, to everyone’s amazement just weeks later a second discovery was made within a short distance of where the head was found, when the bust was also unearthed.

Both items were immediately taken to Burghley’s Curator before being sent to a professional conservator who was able to carefully clean and consolidate the figure, revealing the features of a beautiful Roman lady, 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.

And when the House opens again for the 2024 season, on 16 March, the remarkable find will be on display, together with an explanation about its discovery, and alongside other sculptures that were purchased by the ninth Earl.

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.

Greg Crawley

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