Roman Copper-Alloy Tortoise Figurine Discovered In Suffolk, UK

Jan Bartek - -  A beautiful small Roman copper-alloy tortoise figurine has been recovered by a local metal detector user near Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, UK.

Tortoises or turtles were most often associated with the god Mercury in the Roman world, and Mercury is often found accompanied by turtles/tortoises in iconography. Mercury was the god of commerce, communication and travelers.

Roman Copper-Alloy Tortoise Figurine Discovered In Suffolk, UK

Credit: Suffolk County Council

A possible reason for the association with Mercury was that tortoise shells were used to make lyres, stringed musical instruments used in antiquity, the invention of which is attributed to Mercury in mythology.

The turtle has long been held sacred by many ancient cultures.  Myths and legends from across the world reveal that ancient civilizations had a fascination with turtles, and the animal was considered sacred in many parts of the world. The turtle, one of the longest-living animals on Earth, was often associated with the creation of the world.

As one example, we can mention Native American Indians who believed that the Great Spirit created their homeland by placing Earth on the back of a giant turtle. This is why some contemporary Native Americans refer to North America as “Turtle Island.”

The Roman tortoise figurine found in Suffolk, is, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme database "sub-oval in plan, D-shaped in section with a flat belly.

Roman Copper-Alloy Tortoise Figurine Discovered In Suffolk, UK

Credit: Suffolk County Council

The shell has a prominent longitudinal curved ridge, running down its centre from the head to the tail. The turtle/tortoise has four small projecting semi-circular knops that represent the front and back legs. There is a similar larger knop for the head and an elongated curved knop for the tail.

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This figurine measures 43.62mm in length, 33.76mm in width, 12.87mm in thickness, 39.57g in weight."

Suffolk Heritage informs a very similar example was recovered from occupation layers dating to circa AD 100-400 from excavations in the Roman town of Colchester.

In Suffolk, turtle figurines have also been recovered from near Barking and near Little Blakenham.

Written by Jan Bartek - Staff Writer