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Unusual Roman wooden arm found during Northamptonshire excavation

During OA East's most recent excavations at Warth Park, in Raunds, Northamptonshire, a very surprising discovery was made, in the form of an unusual wooden artefact.

Unusual Roman wooden arm found during Northamptonshire excavation
The arm - seen from all angles - was found in a waterlogged Roman well
[Credit: © Michael Bamforth]
This object appears to have been thrown into a Roman well, probably as a votive offering, and is a representation of a complete human arm, with an open right hand. The wooden arm was analysed by archaeological wood specialist, Michael Bamforth (University of York).

In his report, he said that it had been finely carved from a single branch, which makes use of a natural curve to form the elbow, and is very well made, as no tool marks are visible on its surface. The hand is also relatively slender and gracile and so, if it’s a life-sized piece, it seems to mimic the arm and hand of a small adult or adolescent.

Unusual Roman wooden arm found during Northamptonshire excavation
Archaeologist and wood expert Michael Bamforth examined the arm found
at the bottom of the well [Credit: Oxford Archaeology East]
Intriguingly, the upper end of the object has no trace of any jointing, or other methods that could be used to attach the arm to a larger sculpture. Therefore, it seems likely that it was just this specific element of the body, which was represented and singled as being in some way significant for votive deposition.

A small fragment from the sculpture has now been radiocarbone dated, indicating that the object dates to the earlier Roman period, specifically cal AD 86-240, which also corresponds with the date of Roman pottery recovered from waterlogged deposits in the well.

Unusual Roman wooden arm found during Northamptonshire excavation
The dig was being carried out ahead of further development of the Warth Park
 industrial estate [Credit: Oxford Archaeology East]
Significantly, although carved wooden body parts deposited as votive offerings are known from the continent, none of the examples date from the same period as that from Warth Park. Given this, this wooden arm represents an incredibly rare artefact that holds at least national, and perhaps even international, importance.

Source: Oxford Archaeology [June 20, 2019]


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