Construction Workers At A Historic British Estate Happen Upon A Statue Head From Ancient Rome

Published March 13, 2024

Construction worker Greg Crawley was operating a mechanical digger when he came upon a large stone — one that turned out to be the head of an ancient Roman statue.

Roman Statue Head

Burghley HouseThe bust of a woman discovered during construction at Burghley House.

During construction work in the parking lot of the 16th-century Burghley House in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, a mechanical digger operator serendipitously discovered the head of an 1,800-year-old marble statue.

The discovery was made in April 2023, and two weeks later, the statue’s marble bust was discovered nearby. Experts then cleaned both the head and bust, dating them to the first or second century C.E. They also found an iron dowel that had likely been inserted into the head in the 18th century so it could be attached to a bust or pedestal.

Since then, experts have been able to glean more of the statue’s history and how it wound up beneath Burghley House’s parking lot.

Where Did This Roman Statue Come From?

Although the statue itself is nearly 2,000 years old, experts believe it only found its way to Burghley sometime in the late 18th century.

The ninth Earl of Burghley had a habit of purchasing antiques, and in the 1760s he had gone on two separate tours to Italy. During this time, he made numerous purchases that he then brought back to Burghley with him — possibly including the marble statue.

Burghley House Roman Statue Head

Burghley HouseA close-up of the Roman statue head found at Burghley House.

As for how it wound up in the car park, however, experts are unsure. Some have suggested that perhaps a burglar had attempted to steal the statue, only to lose it during the getaway attempt. Others have put forth less exciting theories, such as that the statue may have simply been discarded and covered with soil over the years.

However, no one is even sure how long the statue had been buried before its discovery last year.

What is known is that near the end of the parking lot’s construction, Greg Crawley’s mechanical digger struck what he thought was a large rock — but wound up being this ancient marble statue head.

Greg Crawley Discovers The Roman Head Buried Beneath A Parking Lot

“I had a real shock as the digger bucket rolled over what I thought was a big stone to reveal a face,” Greg Crawley said in a statement released by Burghley House. “When I picked it up, I realised it was a head of a statue. I couldn’t believe it when they told me it was a Roman marble statue. It was an amazing feeling to have found something so old and special — definitely my best ever discovery.”

Greg Crawley

Burghley HouseConstruction worker Greg Crawley holding the Roman statue head.

The discovery was exciting in and of itself. Then, two weeks later, the bust was also unearthed not far from where the head was found.

Both portions of the statue were handed over to Burghley’s Curator and then sent off to a professional conservator, who cleaned and reassembled the pieces. The British Museum was also made aware of the statue so that it could be cataloged.

The Burghley House just announced this discovery — about a year after it was made — as it prepares to reopen to the public on March 16, 2024. Then, visitors will be able to see the restored marble bust, as well as various other antiques collected by Burghley’s ninth Earl.

After learning about this exciting discovery, discover 30 of the world’s most famous statues. Or, read about the Colossus of Rhodes, the ancient wonder that was destroyed after standing for 54 years.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.