Finest Roman relic freed from the mud

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The Independent Online
One of Britain's finest Roman relics was yesterday released from mud which had encased and protected it for 1,800 years.

The 5ft sandstone sculpture of a lioness devouring a man is the largest and best preserved artefact of its kind to be found in the United Kingdom.

It was discovered near Edinburgh on the banks of the River Almond at Cramond, which was a Roman fort. The sculpture, which weighs around one ton, was found buried beside two plinths and is thought to be part of the tomb of a prominent Roman official in the second or third century AD.

It was found by the local ferryman at Cramond, Robert Graham, who saw the head sticking out of the river inches from ferry steps which have been used by thousands of day-trippers over the years. At first he thought it was a modern sculpture and planned to take it home for his garden.

But experts were called in last week after he showed it to a local archeology enthusiast, who realised its significance.

Yesterday, Mr Graham was among 200 onlookers who watched as it was removed from the mud. Archeologists spent the weekend removing silt from around the sculpture, which was under 24-hour surveillance. It was finally lifted intact out of the mud by a crane.

"I am just happy it is out in one piece," Mr Graham said. "It is just luck that I found it. I don't feel any pride, it was sheer luck."

Mark Collard, head archeologist for the City of Edinburgh Council, was delighted. "It is in one piece, there is not a scratch or a crack on it," he said. "I feel like a schoolboy again. People always asked what is the best find of my career, now I have an answer for them."

He said it was the fourth Roman sculpture to be found in the UK which showed the relatively rare subject of a human being devoured by an animal. But it was the largest and best preserved. He said this was because of the mud which had stopped air getting to it.

The piece has been taken to an Edinburgh laboratory belonging to the National Museum of Scotland, where it will be dried out slowly to avoid cracking. There are hopes that it will eventually be exhibited in the city.

It is likely that Mr Graham, who takes day-trippers the 100 yards across the river from Cramond to Dalmeny estate in a rowing boat, will be rewarded for his promptness in reporting the find.