A “spectacular” Roman sculpture has been found buried barely more than a foot deep next to a country road in Kent.
The unique stone statue depicts Triton – a merman with the torso of a man and the tail of a fish – riding a sea monster.
In Roman mythology, Triton was the son of the sea god Neptune.
As a demigod, he was able to calm the waves by blowing on his conch shell, which he appears to be holding in the uncovered sculpture.
This part has been demolished, but otherwise the artifact is in incredible condition. It was carved between the late 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
The statue was found by archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) when they excavated a site near the A2 in Teynham, Kent. in front of a new housing development.
The A2 follows part of the route of the original Roman Watling Street, which linked the Roman ports of Richborough and Dover with London and continued north-west via St Albans.
A “spectacular” Roman sculpture has been found buried barely more than a foot deep next to a country road in Kent. The unique stone statue depicts Triton – a merman with the torso of a man and the tail of a fish – riding a sea monster
The statue was found by archaeologists from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) when they excavated a site near the A2 in Teynham, Kent, in front of a new housing development
Dr. Richard Hobbs, senior curator of Roman Britain at the British Museum, told MailOnline it was “spectacular”.
He said: “This is a truly impressive piece of sculpture which is undoubtedly of great importance to our understanding of Roman Britain and its place in the wider Roman Empire.”
He added that although some fragments of Triton sculptures were known from Roman Britain, “nothing comparable has ever been discovered.”
The excavations also uncovered the remains of a mausoleum, which was located in a walled and moated complex.
Several Roman and possibly later burials have been identified, some with grave goods including glass vessels.
The Triton statue is substantial at 70cm (27.5 inches) high and 70cm wide. It weighs more than 60 kg.
Archaeologists didn’t have to dig far. It was only 40 cm underground.
It appeared to have been placed in a disused clay-lined water tank along with burned fill material.
Richard Helm, senior project manager for CAT, believes there may have been a ritual involving “libations and feasting.”
“They chopped off the head of the sculpture, probably broke off the arm at the same time, and put the sculpture face down,” he said.
Recalling his amazement when he first saw it, he added: “It’s not often you find a sculpture at an archaeological site, so it’s unique… It’s a real work of art.”
“It’s amazing… It’s exquisite.” [and] unusual.’
The artifact was discovered with its head broken off. Dr. Richard Hobbs, senior curator of Roman Britain at the British Museum, told MailOnline it was “spectacular”.
The artifact was placed back in front of his head for a photograph. Excavations at the site continue
The finds, including the base of a monument or statue, indicate that this was the burial place of a wealthy family.
They may have been associated with a Roman villa previously found at nearby Bax Farm.
The Triton statue was made by a reasonably talented sculptor, said Dr. Hobbs, noting details like the carved fins on his back: “He’s equipped to swim in the sea, wag his tail… He’s really pretty.”
He said such marine images reflected the great importance of the sea and waterways in Roman Britain and that this high-profile location could be associated with a person such as a commanding officer of the navy.
The statue was carefully removed from the site for initial conservation work, which already revealed the quality of its craftsmanship.
Further research is taking place.
Remains of the mausoleum and district walls will be preserved and protected within a roundabout for the new housing development.
The developer is looking for ways to make the finds available to the public to give everyone a chance to engage with the “rich local history.”
Excavations at the site continue.
The new properties are being built by Moat Homes and Chartway Partnerships Group.