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Roman statue head found at Burghley Park will go on display at house near Stamford

A mysterious Roman ‘head’ unearthed during the construction of a car park will go on public display.

Visitors to Burghley House near Stamford will be able to see the mysterious 1,800-year-old Roman statue, which is taking pride of place on display within the dramatic Hell Staircase of the grand Elizabethan house.

The marble head of a Roman lady was discovered by a digger driver, and two weeks later a marble bust was revealed.

Greg Crawley with the head he found while digging a new car park in the grounds of Burghley House
Greg Crawley with the head he found while digging a new car park in the grounds of Burghley House

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 that he brought the sculpture back to Burghley.

The head before it was cleaned
The head before it was cleaned

But how the head and bust ended up buried in the park remains a mystery, 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 among the lifted earth, which turned out to be the head. 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.

The statue will be on display by The Hell Staircase
The statue will be on display by The Hell Staircase

Greg, 31, from Bourne, 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.”

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

Burghley House will be open Saturdays to Thursdays from 10.30am to 4.30pm. The gardens and adventure play will be open daily from 10am to 5pm.

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