Unearthed figurine suggests ancient Britons favoured mullets

Archaeologists say figure found in National Trust dig could represent 1st-century man or Celtic deity

The tiny figure found by National Trust archaeologists at the Wimpole estate. Photograph: National Trust/Oxford Archaeology East/James Fairbairn

A tiny figurine found by archaeologists on the proposed site of a car park may provide a unique insight into the popular hairstyles among the native men of Roman-era Britain, with moustaches and mullets – with a neat back and sides – being the cut of the day.

The 5cm-high copper alloy figure was found in 2018 during excavation work on the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, and experts say the discovery either gives us a rare glimpse into ordinary Britons’ appearance or their imagined gods.

Shannon Hogan, the National Trust archaeologist for the east of England, told the Guardian the figure was originally thought to be a Celtic deity but now experts believe it could “very well reflect the face of your average man”.

The Celtic figure, rear view. Photograph: National Trust/Oxford Archaeology East/James Fairbairn/PA

She said: “We have so few visual or written depictions from the Romans of what the native people looked like, so it’s tempting to say he was designed based on what people looked like or what the current styles or current trends were then.”

Hogan added that his neat haircut, with what appears to be a mullet, might have been influenced by the limitations of the manufacturing process, but experts believe the decision to include or exclude certain elements – such as a beard – was deliberate.

“They could have put a beard in there – that could have been quite easily done – but they haven’t, so it could very well be reflecting sort of the face of your average man,” she said.

The figure was one of 300 objects found during the dig, which took place on the site of a new planned car park, and it would have originally been connected to a spatula used for mixing medicines or wiping the wax tablets that were used for writing.

Archaeologists are still not sure if the figure, which dates back to the first century AD, is Roman or Celtic, but theories include that he could be a Celtic deity that has no recorded likeness.

“He hasn’t been likened to any particular Celtic deities, that we know of but then there are some that don’t have visual depictions,” Hogan said. “So he could be a deity, or he could be just an anthropomorphic piece of the tool which he was a part of.”

The Wimpole site revealed the changing use of land over hundreds of years as it shifted from livestock management to large enclosures and eventually a later Roman settlement that focused on arable production.

The settlement may have been at the centre of an established trading network. Other items found on the site include Roman military uniform fittings, coins, an axe head, cosmetic implements, horse harnesses and brooches.

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