A team of archaeologists hope to uncover an ancient temple thought to be under the St Mary's Hospital site in Colchester.

Experienced excavators from Colchester Archaeological Trust on Tuesday started work on a dig which could also save buried relics for future generations.

They will be advising designers working for the site's owner, Jaygate Homes, so that its plans leave buried items untouched, ready to be unearthed in years to come.

Philip Crummy, director of the archaeological trust, said: "The idea of this preliminary work is to provide information for the architects to design the scheme to give minimum impact for the archaeology.

"If it turns out there's a temple there, which we think there is, it might be possible to incorporate that."

He said the dig would test the accuracy of a mysterious century-old plan of a Romano-Celtic temple, drawn up by P G Laver.

Mr Crummy said: "There's no description about how it was found but it shows two squares, one inside another. That's a distinctive plan we recognise as a Romano-Celtic temple."

In 1997, the archaeological trust dug trenches on the St Mary's site and found Roman rubble foundations which could be a temple, although they do not quite match P G Laver's plan.

Dig leader Carl Crossan said a stretch of Roman floor and part of a wall around it had already been exposed.

The team of six will concentrate on a 15 sq m area clear of the hospital buildings that cannot be saved if building goes ahead.

Jaygate Homes hopes to get planning permission to turn the 7.6-acre site into a residential development to replace the Victorian hospital buildings.

(Right) The artist's impression shows the temple complex at Gosbecks. It is hoped a similar temple will be found at St Mary's Hospital.

(Left) Archaeologists excavating at the St Mary's site

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