Two fragments of a marble Roman sign have been pieced together in England after 2,000 years apart, yet revealing only one part of the original meaning.
The fragments were discovered more than 100 years apart in Silchester Roman Town, at a site that is now being excavated by archaeologists of the University of Reading, UK.
One marble fragment, inscribed with the letters "AT," was unearthed in 1891 and is now part of Reading Museum's Silchester Collection. The other piece, etched with the letters "BA," was found 33 feet away at the same site in 2013.
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Analysis of the stone fragment by Roger Tomlin, an authority on the inscriptions of Roman Britain, confirmed the pieces were from the same object.
Both fragments boast the same style and size of lettering, and the dimensions of the slab match as well, he concluded.
"Matching pieces which were discovered over 100 years apart to a 2,000-year-old object is incredibly rare," Mike Fulford of the University of Reading said in a statement.
Pieced together, the fragments read At(e)ba(tum), or "of the Atrebates," the French tribe who likely founded Silchester in the 1st century BC.
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"We now know what the bottom line of the sign reads. However, the top line remains a mystery," Fulford said.
The mysterious sign was possibly destroyed by the legendary Boudica, the rebel queen of the Iceni (a British tribe) who unsuccessfully attempted to defeat the Romans in the first century AD.
The fragments were likely part of a slab of marble from Purbeck in Dorset, which was either a sign commemorating the construction of a significant building, or a dedication to a deity.
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Previous research at Silchester has connected the site to the infamous emperor Nero.
"It's a tantalizing thought that this might link to Nero himself who is known to have commissioned major building projects in Silchester," Fulford said.
"Our work to uncover the origins of Silchester continues next year - perhaps a name could emerge. It's unlikely, but this story goes to show that that when it comes to archaeology, anything is possible," Fulford said.