Rufford Park discovery is 2,000 year old Roman artefact

Coun John Knight, Lorraine Horsley and Emily Gillott with the Roman granite column.
Coun John Knight, Lorraine Horsley and Emily Gillott with the Roman granite column.
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Archaeologists believe they have discovered a Roman granite column thought to be almost 2,000 years old in the heart of Rufford Abbey Country Park.

Thought to have formed part of the estate, the pink granite column was previously thought to be a piece of public art obtained by estate owner and 19th century archeologist Lord John Savile.

A number of pieces we thought were pure ornament are looking very much like artefacts brought back from Rome.

But it has now been identified as part of a portico constructed of huge pink granite columns in the grounds of a villa in Lanuvium, Rome, belonging to Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius who ruled from 138AD to 161AD.

Nottinghamshire County Council community archaeologists Emily Gillott and Lorraine Horsley spent a very successful summer last year at Rufford excavating for medieval remains, and a chance comment by a visiting conservation specialist as they explored the park’s picturesque public garden led to their latest discovery.

Emily said: “We had viewed the place as a public sculpture park for a long time, but recently we have started to look at the place as the home of an enthusiastic archaeologist.

“From this perspective a number of pieces we thought were pure ornament are looking very much like artefacts brought back from Rome.

“We have plenty of information here about the excavations but very little at all about those at Lanuvium.

“We have found reference to a portico constructed of massive pink granite columns which was in the environs of the villa of Antoninus Pius.”

The column is around four foot tall and over time has become covered in algae, but on closer inspection found a discreet shipping mark to enable them to determine that it had been excavated in Rome and sent back to the UK by Lord Savile.

Coun John Knight, culture chief at Nottinghamshire County Council said: “We are extremely excited by this news. Rufford Abbey has a fascinating heritage and this latest discovery brings a further unique dimension to its history thanks to Lord Savile’s archaeological exploits.

“They are all located within the ‘Roman’ garden area of the grounds, where he had a massive fountain constructed in the style of one of the lamps he found at Nemi (in Italy).

“Our new discoveries are changing the way we look at Rufford Abbey and the grounds.”

There are further summer excavations at Rufford Abbey country park this summer between 29th June 29 and 10th July, excluding weekends). Visitors to Rufford are welcome to go along and see the excavations to find out how the project is progressing.