SIMON KEAY: One of the most exciting events that’s happened to me at Portus was discovery of the famous sculptured head, which today we think is probably the representation of a fisherman although we had previously thought that it might have represented Ulysses. Now I remember very, very clearly, back in 2009, we had just begun to very carefully remove the top surface of the western part of the excavation prior to undertaking the more careful troweling and hand-picking that we usually employ to uncover structures. And I remember the earth-moving machinery very carefully removing topsoil. And I just saw a flash of white.
And so inevitably, I said to the machine, stop, no more, I’m just going to go and have a look at this. So he stopped. And I went and had a look. And for a moment, I recoiled because I saw this face staring up at me out of the ground. And for a minute, I really thought this was a human face. And that something terrible had happened overnight. It really looked like a live human face, half-buried in the soil. And went closer and, of course, I then realised it was a sculpture. And initially, my thought was, this must be a medieval sculpture because very, very fine, refined features and very clearly expressive.
But then, of course, as I got closer, I realised that it was indeed an ancient sculpture. And so I cleared away just a little bit of the earth and took a series of photographs of which this image is one of them. And I must say that it was an electrifying moment. I actually knew that I was the first person to see that face in 2000 years. And I quickly called over my colleagues. And we very, very carefully took photographs, recorded its position. Although, at the same time, we were really, really keen that we wanted to actually pull it out of the ground.
But of course, being well-trained archaeologists, we knew that we had to record its position, make sure that we understood its context, and recorded everything properly before the more painstaking process of removing it from the ground began.
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