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Horned Head Carved Stone



In her report which appears in the transactions of the Staffordshire Archaeological and historical Society (Vol XX1 – 1979) Ann Ross states that “There is convincing evidence for the existence of a pagan Celtic shrine in the first century A.D. on the site of the Roman settlement at Wall, which was subsequently destroyed by the Romans when they built the mansio.” Nine stone carvings were excavated on site, two in the 1912/14 excavation and then seven more in the 1970s, five of which included human heads, some shown with horns. Two others have inscriptions. Letocetum was in the territory of the Cornovii tribe ‘Worshippers of the Horned Ones’. Was there once a sacred grove dedicated to this cult on the site of the mansio at Wall?

How would these stones have been used? The evidence from excavation suggests a Romano-Celtic shrine of some kind built during the Flavian period 69-96 A.D. incorporating a plastered stone screen in which the carved stones were displayed. The stones may have even been moved from an earlier Celtic timber shrine which existed on the site before the Romans arrived. An unusually large well was also found on the site which may also have been used during sacred rites. This was filled in when the mansio was built around 125 A.D. At this time the carved stones were also buried upside down in the foundations of the new mansio. Perhaps to keep the powers of these pagan deities in check but not to annoy them by destroying them? It has been suggested that a new replacement Roman temple, perhaps dedicated to Minerva, was then built elsewhere at Wall.

The stone displayed in our museum is No 1 ‘Stone decorated by two horned heads, in profile, facing each other. To the right of the heads is what the writer (Ann Ross) takes to be a circular shield with arm-strap. Images of horned deities often appear at Celtic pagan sites not only in Staffordshire and northern Britain but throughout the wider Celtic world. We are fortunate to have such an interesting collection from Wall available for study. Several of the stones are in the Birmingham Museums Collections Centre. Recently stones 4, 7 and 8 have been 3D photographed.

Stone 4 was discovered in 1977. It shows a male figure with a rather large head and holding a shield or maybe a patera (libations bowl) and a club. Is he a ‘good god’ or a ‘war god’ showing off his military prowess? Below the feet of the figure is a severed head.


Stone 7 depicts a phallus or could it be an elongated Celtic head? (Not a pair of scissors as young diggers were told in the 1970s!) The Celts believed that heads were imbued with the power of fertility and the Romans believed that a phallus could ward against evil.


Stone 8 bears an inscription which reads CUINTI CI possibly the Celtic name of the local god at Wall or the name of a person who paid for the building of the shrine.


Further research may shed light on the meaning of these mysterious stones. You can find the full report with more information about the stones at:                                      https://www.sahs.uk.net/transactions                                                                   Stones report in Volume XXI, pp3-11: “A pagan Celtic shrine at Wall, Staffordshire”


With thanks to Teresa Gilmore for allowing us to share these scans.

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