ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered a brilliantly preserved entrance to a centuries old Roman Circus where visitors would have rushed through to watch chariot racing.

The team from the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) have found another of the twelve gates at an excavation of the former Arena Leisure Centre in Circular Road East.

It is believed the circus, which was the only known one in Britain, would have been able to house 8,000 spectators.

Director of the CAT Philip Crummy said he was delighted to have found the remains, which help build up a better picture of what the circus looked like.

He said: "It has been uncovered in what was the tennis court of the Arena club.

"We did not expect it to be where it was - we actually thought it would have been 20ft to one side.

"It is very well preserved.

"We have found five so far and it is certainly the best looking one we have discovered - we estimate there would have been 12 of these gates where people would have come in and out."

The experts have also discovered part of a hoof from a horse which they believe may be similar size to a large Shetland pony - although the find has yet to be scrutinised by an expert.

Mr Crummy said: "It is another exciting find but quite ambiguous as to what it means.

"There has been a long-running debate about the size of the horses which would have been used to race the chariots and this discovery suggests they would have been quite small.

"It suggests it would have been about nine hands quite is small but the bone has not been looked at properly yet.

"It also looks like the bone is showing signs of arthritis which can be common in horses which work too hard and it can be made worse by them doing sharp turns.

"Of course, we are not certain why it was in the circus bit it is a very exciting to see it.

"If we could do more excavating and then found some more horse bones of a similar size it would help us to be more confident about what it was used for."