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Ancient Roman statue discovered in margarine tub

Updated 12th December 2018
Romano-British statuette of Minerva from Hailey, Oxfordshire. Images by Rod Trevaskus on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council / PAS
Credit: Rod Trevaskus/Oxfordshire County Counci
Ancient Roman statue discovered in margarine tub
Written by Lianne Kolirin, CNNLondon
An ancient statue of the Roman deity Minerva was discovered in a margarine tub, where it had been languishing for years.
The Romano-British piece was brought to attention by amateur metal detectorist 66-year-old Len Jackman, who was visiting a local farmer in rural Oxfordshire. When Jackman sought permission to detect on his land, the farmer told him he was not the first to do so.
Jackman, a retired lorry driver, told CNN: "He invited me in to give me a map of his land and said he'd had other detectorists before. He then produced this statue out of an old margarine box, saying it was found on his land."
As an experienced detectorist, Jackman guessed that the statue -- which shared the box with some gold coins -- was Roman. But it would only be confirmed several months later, when he returned to show the farmer the discoveries he had made on his land.
"I told him I would take what I'd found to be identified and dated at the Museum Resource Centre in Standlake and he said if I was going I should take the stuff from the margarine tub. I said, 'I think you'll be getting a phone call!'"
Fortunately, Jackman recognized the significance of the lead and copper alloy statuette and took it to be assessed -- together with the other items he had uncovered.
On Tuesday morning Jackman was invited to the British Museum in London, where the statue was introduced by arts minister Michael Ellis, as he presented the Portable Antiquities Annual report for 2017.
The artifact was just one of 78,000 archaeological items that were unearthed by the British public last year and voluntarily recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is managed by the British Museum. More than nine out of 10 of these items (93 per cent) were found by metal detectorists like Jackman.
Coins or items made of gold or silver which are more than 300 years old are defined as treasure. Overall, 1,267 of 2017's discoveries fell into this category -- including this statuette with its silver rivets -- making it a record-breaking year for treasure.
A spokesman for the British Museum told CNN: "When a potential treasure find is reported to the local Finds Liaison Officer (which they must do by law) it begins a process whereby the objects will be assessed by various experts including our curators here at the British Museum.
"Often that means that they will travel to the Museum to be examined. At the end of the process, there is an inquest where a coroner will declare the find to be legally treasure."
The Minerva statue is still going through the treasure process, according to the spokesman, so there is no monetary value attached to it as yet. "But a number of museums are already interested in acquiring it," he added.
Among the other items unveiled at the museum Tuesday was gold jewelry plucked from the Shropshire marshes, in the west of England, and a priceless antique lamp discovered on the banks of the River Thames in London.
Speaking at the museum, Ellis thanked the public for their contributions and said: "Thousands of hidden treasures have been uncovered this year, helping us to learn more about our past and those that came before us. Many of these important finds have been acquired by, and gone on public display in our museums, meaning that more and more people can experience and understand our rich history."