Roman discoveries in Meon Valley spark debate over circus maximus

Lee McGowan, left, and Peter Beasley with what they believe to be pieces of Roman pottery.  'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1045)
Lee McGowan, left, and Peter Beasley with what they believe to be pieces of Roman pottery. 'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1045)
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THREE Waterlooville residents believe they have made a significant historical discovery of Roman and Celtic remains at Old Down in the East Meon Valley.

The team of amateur archeologists and metal detectors claim to have discovered Roman and Celtic artifacts including pottery, coins, jewellery and part of a Roman eagle standard.

From left, Lee McGowan and Michael Poole with Peter Beasley 'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1113)

From left, Lee McGowan and Michael Poole with Peter Beasley 'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1113)

Team leader, Peter Beasley, 77, has been exploring the site for 26 years.

Peter said: ‘We believe the site dates to around the time of Christ and the artefacts indicate the presence at different periods of both Roman and Celtic inhabitants. Over the years we have discovered hundreds of items including Celtic and Roman coins and a Roman pendant.’

Many of Peter’s discoveries have been verified as authentic. In 2010 Mr Beasley sold a solid gold Roman pendant, inscribed with the letters TI CAESAR, for £30,000. In 1996, he uncovered a collection of Roman coins which were sold to the British Museum for £103,000. More recently, on March 13, 2016, Mr Beasley discovered a coin depicting two horses. Under the official Treasure Act of 1996, the British Museum’s official ‘finds’ scheme has dated the coins between 50 to 30 BC.   

However, it was the discovery of what they claim to be two potential linchpins, used for wheel attachments, which has led the team to believe the site could have once been used as a circus maximus - a chariot racing stadium used for entertainment during Roman times.

Are these pieces of Roman pottery? 'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1141)

Are these pieces of Roman pottery? 'Picture: Malcolm Wells (190603-1141)

Mr Beasley said: ‘As well as the linchpins we found coins in a uniform line along what could have been the race track and an ancient pond which could have been used for watering the horses.’

Pride of place in Mr Beasley’s discoveries is what he believes to be the discovery of part of an aquila – Latin for eagle and the standard of a Roman legion. He has unearthed what appears to be the eagle’s head and is hopeful of finding the remaining body.

‘If we were to unearth the body it could potentially be worth millions,’ he claimed.

Whilst Mr Beasley’s discoveries have led to debate over the potential presence of a circus maximus, Hampshire County Council archeologist, David Hopkins, is sceptical as to the presence of such an iconic venue.

Roman eagles head.

Roman eagles head.

Mr Hopkins said: ‘Our records for this area of the Meon Valley suggest it would be a highly unlikely location for a circus maximus. Such venues are normally built next to a major centre of population where as this location is very isolated.’

However Mr Hopkins feels Mr Beasley’s discoveries could be linked to a Roman settlement.

‘There were a lot of Roman settlements across the south of England and these discoveries could be linked to something of Roman origin. I would be far more comfortable with this concept of a Roman settlement but it is then quite a big jump to a circus maximus,’ he explained.

Despite scepticism as to the likelihood of a circus maximus, the group are steadfast in their belief of its presence.

What's thought to be a Roman eagle's head alongside how it would have looked.

What's thought to be a Roman eagle's head alongside how it would have looked.

Group member, Michael Poole, 32, said: ‘When people first put forward the idea of a circus maximus at Colchester it was dismissed. It took many years to prove it was there.’

Fellow amateur archeologist, Lee McGowan, 51, added: ‘We believe this site is of significant national importance and want to start a dig to discover what is there. We have spoken to people at the University of Portsmouth and are keen to get them involved.’

However their hopes of further investigations have been curtailed after the landowner, Gordon Masson has blocked any work on the site.

Mr Masson said: ‘These people may have had permission from the previous landowner but in the three years I have owned the site they have never had permission to carry out any exploration. If I was approached by archeologists about the presence of an important discovery I would first of all want to know who these people are and I would then have to consult with my farming tenants.’