The Brightlingsea harpy, newly-conserved

Image: Colchester Archaeological Trust

Fans of Classical mythology (or the Game of Thrones series!) may be interested in the latest news from Colchester, where a  conservator has  just completed the painstaking process of cleaning a newly-discovered copper-alloy  harpy.

Standing 98mm tall, with an intricately detailed face (topped with braided hair), wings, talons, and scales, the Roman figurine  is the  broken-off foot of a small  copper-alloy  brazier. To the rear  its tail  (just visible in the adjacent photo)  supported the body of the brazier, while traces of glass in its eyes hint that they once flashed with bright inlays.

The  harpy  was found by Colchester Archaeological Trust’s Ben Holloway in the fill of a Roman field boundary ditch, during the Trust’s recently-completed excavation  in the Brightlingsea area.

‘The ditch also produced Roman pottery sherds and fragments of roof tile — very run of the mill finds, but the  harpy  stuck out like a sore thumb as something more exotic,’ said the Trust’s Director, Philip Crummy. ‘Our six-hectare site has produced very little Roman material, but the field ditch was right at the edge of this area, where the land begins to slope gently down to the river Colne. Several Roman villas are known to lie in this kind of location along the river valley — perhaps there is another undiscovered villa nearby, which would explain the presence of the Roman building materials and the  harpy.  The owners of the villa must have been well off to have afforded such a fine brazier.’

This story is published in Current Archaeology 304 – on sale first week of June.

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