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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Important archaeological finds at Brett Aggregates sites

Roman copper-alloy sculpture of a harpy

Archaeologists unearth two exceptional ancient artefacts at quarries in Essex and Surrey

ARCHAEOLOGISTS from Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) have uncovered a rare Roman find – a copper-alloy sculpture of a harpy, a mythical monster with the face and torso of a woman and the wings and claws of a bird – at Brett Aggregates’ Brightlingsea Quarry, near Colchester.

The 10cm high sculpture had been broken off a small metal brazier that could have been used to heat a Roman bathhouse.

The archaeological excavation also produced some Roman pottery shards and fragments of roof tile and later Saxon structures, but the harpy is said to be a particularly exciting discovery.

Philip Crummy, director of CAT, commented: ‘Certainly, the owners of the brazier must have been well off to have been able to afford such a fine piece of equipment.’

Andrew Josephs, archaeological consultant for Brett, added: ‘The find will be analysed along with the results of many hectares of archaeological excavation and the results published. The research will make an important contribution to the archaeology of East Anglia.’

Meanwhile, a further interesting discovery has been made at another quarry site operated jointly by Brett and Lafarge Tarmac in Surrey. Here a socketed axe was found in a waterhole during excavations by Oxford Archaeology, in preparation for gravel extraction.

The waterhole, which would have provided water for both animals and people, formed part of a more extensive agricultural landscape of fields, tracks and scattered settlements dating from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age periods.

Although this type of axe has been found throughout much of southern England, the Midlands and South Wales, this particular specimen is said to be in exceptionally good condition and, with its decorated finish, a particularly fine example.

Ken Welsh of Oxford Archaeology said: ‘The axe is unlikely to have been lost by accident as it would have been a very valuable object. Axes like this one are often found in watery places and it was probably deliberately placed in the waterhole, perhaps as an offering to the gods.’

Andrew Josephs added: ‘The axe will now be conserved for future generations and further analysis undertaken to ensure that we understand as much as possible about this beautiful object.’

‘It’s always exciting when ancient artefacts are uncovered at our sites, but to find two such exceptional pieces is quite extraordinary,’ said Oliver Brown, development director with Brett Aggregates. ‘We look forward to learning more about the harpy and the axe, and what they can tell us about local history.’

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