A FASCINATING exhibit at Colchester’s Roman Circus reveals new insights into the town’s relationship with a mysterious ancient cult.

The Cult of Isis, goddess of fertility and motherhood, originated in ancient Egypt before spreading from Greece to the Roman empire, where it was absorbed into Roman religion.

Over the years, archaeologists have made several finds which suggest its existence in Roman Colchester, particularly focused in the area surrounding what was Essex County Hospital, in Lexden Road.

Colchester Archaeological Trust has unveiled a new exhibit exploring the cult’s connection with the town at the Colchester Roman Circus Visitor Centre.

It features a reconstruction of a female bust discovered more than a 100-years-ago.

Gazette: A dig at the Essex County Hospital siteA dig at the Essex County Hospital site

Philip Crummy, director of Colchester Archaeological Trust, said: “Part of the evidence for the cult is in the form of two joining fragments of carved sandstone in the form of a female bust.

“The latter is distinctive in that the woman had a diadem, a type of crown, and a short veil over the back of her head, these being diagnostic features in depictions of kings or Gods and Goddesses in the Greek and to a lesser extent the Roman worlds.”

“On top of this, various items have been found over the years in the area which are associated with Isis.”

Other discoveries include a small copper-alloy figurine of a boy found in Oxford Road - identifiable as Isis’ son Harpocrates as he has one finger pointing to his lower lip while holding a falcon.

Harpocrates later became known as Horus, the falcon-headed Egyptian god of the sky.

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In 2005, whilst excavating at Colchester Royal Grammar School, a tower-like building was found where cremated remains included bones of one adult and at least four juvenile sparrowhawks.

The famous Colchester sphinx, discovered in 1821, also points to the cult having a connection in the town.

Mr Crummy said: “The sphinx was closely associated with death and was seen as the guardian of the Underworld.

“But this is not all. A second sphinx lay close the first one. But this was very small and made of copper alloy.

“Quite what this was doing here is unclear but figurines such as this seem to have been buried in graves where presumably they were intended to accompany and protect the dead person on his or her way to the Underworld.”

The bust was made by trustee and sculptor Stephen Lansley from drawings by archaeologist Emma Holloway.

Experts believe its existence and the other evidence point to the existence of a tomb to an important follower of the cult, perhaps a priestess, in Colchester.

The new exhibit can be see at the Roman Circus Centre, in Roman Circus Walk, from Tuesday to Saturday.

Visit www.romancircus.co.uk.