A stone slab used as a stepping stone by a woman in her back garden is actually a rare Roman artifact dating back to the 2nd century CE, according to a news release by an auction house in the UK. Despite sitting on the floor for 10 years, a carved laurel wreath on its surface caught the owners’ eye and the slab was brought to specialists. It was identified as a stele, wooden or stone slabs erected as monuments, that was almost 2,000 years old and has now received a hefty valuation of £10,000-£15,000 (around $13,500-$20,500).
The ornate stele was originally dug up from a nearby garden rockery, before it found its new purpose of being a stepping stone to allow the woman access to her horses. How it arrived in England, however, remains more of a mystery.
“Artefacts of this type often came into England as the result of Grand Tours in the late 18th and 19th century, when wealthy aristocrats would tour Europe learning about Classical art and culture,” explained Will Hobbs, antiquities specialist at Woolley and Wallis auction house in Salisbury, southwest England, in a statement.
“We assume that is how it entered the UK, but what is a complete mystery is how it ended up in a domestic garden, and that’s where we’d like the public’s help.”
Woolley and Wallis are now seeking help from anyone who may illuminate the stele’s history.
After proper cleaning, the surface now depicts multiple carvings, with two Roman laurel wreaths adorning each side and an engraved message in the center. According to the Daily Mail, the inscription reads:
"the people (and) the Young Men (honor) Demetrios (son) of Metrodoros (the son) of Leukios."
In the Roman Empire, laurel leaves such as those depicted on the marble were typically used as a symbol of victory and the triumph of a commander. It is believed the stele originates from Greece or Asia Minor, now modern-day Turkey.
Stelae are important archaeological artifacts, as their creation usually mark important historical events. Such slabs would be erected at funerals, commemoration events, battle memorials or as boundary markers between territories, so unearthing and studying their context can provide a wealth of knowledge to archaeologists. Unfortunately, this particular stele’s purpose is currently not understood.
The artifact will go up for auction to prospective buyers soon – original plans set a February date, but this has since been pushed back to spring 2021.
[H/T: Live Science]