Excavations of a sumptuous Roman bath at Carlisle Cricket Club have unearthed two monumental statue heads thought to date from the early 3rd century. The sandstone heads are two feet high, three times their actual size. Extrapolating from the size of the heads, archaeologists believe that the original statues must have been 12 to 15 feet tall. These are the first sculptures discovered at this site.
The heads were discovered yesterday, just two days after the start of a new excavation season by volunteers Carolyn Veith and Ruth Pierce. They were found on the edge of a paved Roman road. Apparently, they were deliberately left there, placed side by side on the paved surface of the road. They were covered with dark earth when the road fell into disuse in the 5th century.
Archaeologists believe they may have been discarded spolia (ancient building materials dismantled and repurposed for later construction), left by the side of a road by people who ransacked one of the bath complex’s huge structures in search of building materials.
Artifacts such as a tile bearing the IMP stamp and an inscription dedicated to Julia Domna highlight the connection between the bath complex and the emperor Septimius Severus, who was here in 208 AD during his military campaign against the Caledonian tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall. One possibility is that the heads, one of which are female and the other male, could be images of Septimius Severus and his wife, Julia Domna. The female figure has thick wavy braids, a hairstyle that Yulia Domna was famous for throughout the empire. Another possibility is that the monumental statues represented deities.
Lead archaeologist Frank Giecco said they were “unique and priceless”. (…)
“In my 30 years as an archaeologist, I have never found anything like this before.
“It’s just incredible for Carlisle. It only elevates the status of this building.”
Mr Giekko said figurines are not uncommon in baths, “but sculptures of this size are really special.”
“You can probably count examples of this kind in Britain on your fingers,” he said.