A battered and corroded thumb-sized piece of bronze has turned out to be a unique find, the earliest representation of an Egyptian deity from any site in Britain – and appropriately, after almost 2,000 years hidden in the ground, it is Harpocrates, the god of secrecy and silence.
The little figure was found at Silchester, site of an abandoned Roman city in Hampshire, in last summer’s excavation, but his identity was only revealed in months of careful conservation work. His Greek and Roman designation as Harpocrates, the god of spymasters, is actually a transcription error.
“In Egyptian mythology the figure is known as Horus, the child of Isis and Osiris,” said Professor Mike Fulford of the University of Reading, director of the Silchester excavation. “He is often shown with his finger in his mouth, a gesture that in Egypt represented the hieroglyph for his name, but was misinterpreted by the Greeks and Romans, resulting in his adoption as the god of silence and secrecy.”