The identity of a huge stone object that has remained a mystery since it was discovered in Chichester over 200 years ago has been revealed by archaeologists at Bournemouth University (BU).
Dr Miles Russell, a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology at BU and Harry Manley, from the School of Applied Sciences, have used the latest in 3D laser scanning technology to examine the object, known as the Bosham Head.
Little had previously been known about the 170 kg (26 stone), twice life-size stone head – including who it was meant to represent or how it ended up in a flower bed in the vicarage garden in Bosham, where it was discovered in around 1800.
But the BU investigations of the Bosham Head, which is part of the collection at Novium Museum in Chicester, have revealed that it is a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan, and dates from around AD 122.
“The statue is one of the most important finds from Roman Britain and would certainly have been the most impressive,” Dr Russell said, adding that it was the largest Roman statue to have been discovered in Britain so far.
“The problem is because the face has been so battered by weathering – possibly because it was in the sea at one point – people have felt for the last 200 years that there’s not enough left of the face to be that precise on its identification.
“It is a shame that it has been ignored and overlooked for so long, but now that laser scanning has helped resolve its identity, hopefully it will now take pride of place.”
They were able to use 3D laser scans to pick out facial features and a distinctive hairstyle, which led them to conclude that the statue was of Emperor Trajan.
Dr Russell believes the statue, made of Italian marble, was set up by Trajan’s successor, Hadrian, on a visit to Britain in AD 121-122 and would have greeted visitors as they entered Chichester Harbour.
A similar statue of Emperor Trajan was also erected by Hadrian at Ostia Harbour, in Rome.
“The fact that it was on the harbour and mirrors what’s happening in Ostia suggests that this would have been a real monumental greeting not just to Sussex but to the whole of Southern England,” Dr Russell said.
“There would have been this immense statue of the Emperor facing you as you came in to the harbour, so it’s a real Welcome to Britain statue but reminding you that Britain is part of the Roman Empire.”
Dr Russell has been researching the head as part of his work on monumental sculpture and will give a talk on his findings at The Novium museum.
Councillor Eileen Lintill, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Wellbeing and Community Services at Chichester District Council, says: “It is really exciting that more information about the Bosham Head is being uncovered, including new speculation as to who it may depict.
“It has always been a bit of a mystery to museum staff as to who it was meant to represent. It is fascinating that we can learn more about items in The Novium’s collection using new technology such as 3D digital scanning.”
Dr Russell’s lecture – Finding Nero (and other Roman Emperors) – is on Thursday 24 October from 6.30-8pm.
To book tickets or for further information contact The Novium, Tower Street, Chichester on email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01243 775888.