Rare Roman wooden figure uncovered by HS2 archaeologists in Buckinghamshire

The figure, cut from a single piece of wood, stands at 67cm tall and is 18cm wide.

A Roman wooden carved figure has been discovered in a waterlogged ditch during work on the HS2 project.

Archaeologist Iain Williamson  described the survival of the well-preserved wooden figure as “extremely rare”.

The model, cut from a single piece of wood, 67cm tall and 18cm wide, was found by archaeologists in a Roman ditch in a field in Twyford, Buckinghamshire, in July 2021.

The discovery was made by experts from Infra Archaeology, working for HS2’s contractor Fusion JV.

The style of the carving and the tunic-like clothing suggest the figure could date from  the early Roman period (HS2/PA)

The style of the carving and the tunic-like clothing suggest the figure could date from the early Roman period almost 2,000 years ago.

A lack of oxygen in the water-logged clay fill ditch helped prevent the wood from rotting and ensured its survival over the centuries.

Mr Williamson from Fusion JV said: “The preservation of details carved into the wood, such as the hair and tunic, really start to bring the individual depicted to life.

“Not only is the survival of a wooden figure like this extremely rare for the Roman period in Britain, but it also raises new questions about this site.

“Who does the wooden figure represent, what was it used for, and why was it significant to the people living in this part of Buckinghamshire during the first century AD?”

The figure is in good condition but the arms below the elbows and feet have degraded.

Its hat and hairstyle are among the surprising amount of detail which can still be seen.

The head is slightly turned to the left, the tunic at the front seems to be gathered at the waist going down to above knee level, and the legs and shape of the calf muscles are defined.

Shards of pottery dating from 43-70 AD were also discovered in the ditch.

Wooden carved images were offered as gifts to the gods, according to archaeologists, who could not be certain about the figure’s intended use.

Tests are also being carried to try and find out where  the wood originally came from (HS2/PA)

A small broken fragment is being sent for radiocarbon dating to try and get an accurate age for the wood, while tests are also being carried out to try and find out where it came from.

Helen Wass, head of heritage at HS2 Ltd, said the archaeology programme on the first phase of the HS2 project between London and Birmingham has provided a wealth of new information about the past.

She said: “In Buckinghamshire, our careful work has enabled us to build a much greater understanding of how the landscape was used by our ancestors, especially during the Roman period, and is brought to life further through incredible artefacts like this figure.”

Jim Williams, a senior science advisor for Historic England, said: “This is a truly remarkable find which brings us face to face with our past.

“The quality of the carving is exquisite and the figure is all the more exciting because organic objects from this period rarely survive.

“This discovery helps us to imagine what other wooden, plant, or animal-based art and sculpture may have been created at this time.”

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