Archaeologists thrilled by lucky discovery of 2,000-year-old Roman god figurine in Yorkshire

By Ben Miller | 01 June 2015

Dog walkers and metal detectorists help archaeologists to record 1,000 finds in Yorkshire

A photo of three dark green and grey bronze figurines of a roman god standing up
The figurine which is the 1,000th find of the year in Yorkshire stands 76.7 mm high© PAS
The 1,000th officially recorded archaeological find of the year in Yorkshire is a mercurial one. Registered on May the 15th – the day of the festival of Mercury – a 2,000-year-old figurine of the Roman god, found by Dave Cooper while he was metal detecting in a field near Selby, is a remarkable reminder of Roman times.

“It honestly was pure coincidence – but a very happy one,” says Rebecca Griffiths, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the York Museums Trust.

A photo of three dark green and grey bronze figurines of a roman god standing up
The right leg extends straight down from the hips © PAS
“I recorded this object on May 15th, which just so happens to be Mercuralia – the Roman Festival of Mercury.

“Mercury was the god of commerce and so merchants would sprinkle their heads and merchandise with water from Mercury’s well, near the Porta Capena, to appeal to the god for luck in their endeavours.”

The museum is used to receiving items from the public, even when the timing is less curious. The Bedale Hoard, the Escrick Ring and the silver Stillingfleet boar badge of Richard III are already on display thanks to the vigilance of members of the public.

“Every year thousands of archaeological objects are discovered,” says Griffiths. “While the majority of these come from metal-detector users, we also see many finds from people field-walking, gardening, renovating houses and even those out walking particularly inquisitive dogs.

“Due to the quantity and quality of these finds it was realised that, if properly recorded, these discoveries could provide an important source of material with the potential to transform our understanding of the past.

“Each year I, and a small team of volunteers, add more than 2,000 new artefacts to the database. These range from Roman coins to medieval buckles, stone tools to post-medieval toys and pretty much everything in-between.”

The figurine is yet to join a museum collection.

  • You can find out more about the figurine. Public Finds Days will be held by the PAS at Hull and East Riding Museum (July 31, September 25 and November 27, 11am-1pm) and the Yorkshire Museum (June 5, August 7, October 2, December 4, 10am-1pm).

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of three dark green and grey bronze figurines of a roman god standing up
Numerous figurines of Mercury are recorded from England© PAS
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A god? To me it looks like a gladiator with a caestus /cestus, a spiked glove. The wikipedia page on "Cestus" shows a French mosaic from ca. 175 AD with a "cestus" gladiator in nearly the same pose as the figurine.
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