Construction Worker Stumbles Upon Mysterious Roman Statue Hidden Beneath a Parking Lot in England

Found near a lavish historic estate, the nearly 2,000-year-old artifact has baffled researchers

Bust Lead
The statue was discovered in two pieces, one much older than the other, near Burghley House in Lincolnshire. Burghley House

The head of an ancient Roman statue has been unearthed during construction at a lavish estate in England. Researchers have examined the artifact, which they say is nearly 2,000 years old—but they have no idea how it ended up at the site.

The statue surfaced at Burghley House in Lincolnshire in the spring of 2023. Greg Crawley was driving an excavator, clearing the way for a new parking lot, when he noticed something strange.

“I had a real shock as the digger bucket rolled over what I thought was a big stone to reveal a face,” he says in a statement from Burghley House. “When I picked it up, I realized it was a head of a statue.”

Crawley and Head
Greg Crawley discovered the carved head during the construction of a new parking lot on the estate. Burghley House

The smooth, pale marble depicts the face and neck of a woman with wavy hair and a neutral expression. A few weeks after its discovery, with the crew still reeling from the excitement, a second piece was discovered nearby: the woman’s shoulders.

A professional conservator cleaned both pieces, “revealing the features of a beautiful Roman lady,” then attached them together, per the estate. Experts dated the sculpted head to the first or second century—a period that includes the Pax Romana, ancient Rome’s golden age of economic and political stability.

The shoulders, however, were made much later than the head. “This kind of Frankenstein statue was common in the 18th century, as adding modern shoulders made the ancient head more desirable to a potential buyer,” writes the New York Times’ Victor Mather. Experts noted an iron dowel attached to the head, which must have connected it to the pedestal.

Burghley House was built between 1555 and 1587 by the highly influential William Cecil, who served as an adviser to Elizabeth I. In recent years, the property has been featured in productions such as “The Crown” and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film, reports CBS News’ Kerry Breen.

Hell Staircase
The bust now graces the mansion’s Hell Staircase, displayed alongside other statues collected by owners of Burghley House. Burghley House

Over the years, the estate was passed down to Cecil’s descendants. Researchers think Brownlow Cecil, the Ninth Earl of Exeter, may have procured the statue during a trip to Italy in the 1760s.

Still, this information only explains one aspect of the bust’s presence: As the Times writes, “How the heck did the woman make her way from Burghley House … to a shallow grave 300 yards away?”

Proposed explanations for the bust’s earthen burial include “someone simply discarding the statue and it later being covered by soil,” per the statement. But Jon Culverhouse, the estate’s curator, has another theory: Perhaps the artifact was the target of an attempted burglary.

Culverhouse’s “informed speculation” is that somebody attempted to steal the bust within a century of its arrival at Burghley. As he tells the Times, the statue was found near a driveway leading to the mansion’s tradesmen’s entrance—“a likely escape route for thieves” who may have carried the statue from the house only to abandon it within a quarter-mile.

“It’s heavy,” Culverhouse adds. “I could well imagine them thinking, ‘We’ll put it here and come back later.’”

Researchers haven’t found any historical records of a burglary to support Culverhouse’s speculation. As the estate writes, the bust’s path from the Earl’s collection to beneath the estate’s parking lot “remains a complete mystery.”

The cleaned and refinished bust now graces the mansion’s Hell Staircase—named for its distinguishing underworldly murals by Antonio Verrio—accompanied by an explanation of its mysterious concealment and Crawley’s chance discovery.

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me it was a Roman marble statue,” says Crawley in the statement. “It was an amazing feeling to have found something so old and special.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.