Archaeologists find fertility genius, godheads and oil lamps in Roman Cumbria

By Ben Miller | 29 October 2014

"Once in a lifetime" discoveries include an amphora, oil lamp and sculpted stag in Roman Cumbria

A photo of a carved godhead
The Fertility Genius from Papcastle: likely a local deity representative of an area rather than a town or fort© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A fertility genius in “amazing” condition, believed to be a local deity thousands of years ago, and the carved heads of male and female Roman gods have been found by archaeologists digging at a village in Cumbria.

A photo of a stone statue of a fertility figure
The figure holds a Cornucopia ('Horn of Plenty') and a patera - symbols of fertility© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
The vague outline of an altar can be seen below the hand of the genius, unearthed in a 2,500-square metre area at Papcastle, where the 2009 floods gave excavators the first glimpses of Roman remains.

A cap worn by the male statue comes from the Phrygian kingdom in modern-day Turkey, meaning the figure could be Mithras, who was worshipped in the north between the 1st and 4th centuries AD. Archaeologists are also speculating that he could be the Greek god Attis, which would be likely to identify the female head as Cybele – Phrygia's only known goddess.

“This happens once in a lifetime,” says Frank Giecco, of Wardell Armstrong Archaeology, which has overseen the Heritage Lottery Fund-backed Discovering Derventio project.

“You can work in archaeology all your life and never find anything like that. It’s incredible.”

The base of a coin-scattered amphora, a miniature stag, a Roman oil lamp and ditch enclosures have also been found in the flood deposits.

“During the initial stages, the amount of Roman pottery recovered was significant,” says Dave Jackson, of the archaeology team.

“Forty-two objects of significant interest were unearthed in the first week alone.

“Work began at the southern extent of the investigation area, but it soon became apparent that the archaeological features identified through geophysical investigation were going to be difficult to identify on the ground.

“This difficulty in identification is a result of extensive flood deposits, both pre-dating and post-dating the archaeological features, which limit the visual differences between the features and the surrounding natural ground.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a brown stone statue of a head
The cap-wearing head© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A photo of an ancient brown oil lamp
A Roman oil lamp shows no evidence of burning, leading to speculation that it may have been an ornament or toy© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A photo of a small stag carved in dark brown stone
A miniature stag found among the Roman artefacts at Papcastle© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A photo of a circular brown archaeological mud hole
The base of an amphora shows a number of clearly visible coins© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A photo of a mud and stone archaeological site
Work getting underway at the dig© Courtesy Megan Stoakley / Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
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"Mithras, who was worshipped in the north between 1 and 4 AD." - this should be centuries.
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