Garden Ornament Just Might Bear Centuries-Old Message

A weighty stone carved with a mysterious pattern that may be writing has been discovered in a garden in Leicester, England.

The hefty carving was up for sale as a garden ornament when archaeologist and TV presenter James Balme found it. The carving, which was very dirty, may have been plowed up many years ago, Balme said. Despite the carving's poor shape, he thought it was no ordinary ornament — so he purchased it and carefully cleaned it.

In an email, Balme told LiveScience that the complex pattern carved into the stone "may be some form of writing." The carving's use is unknown, though it could be "a keystone from an archway or indeed a vaulted ceiling," Balme said. [7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Image: Ornament
James Balme, an archaeologist and TV presenter, discovered this stone carving in a garden in Leicester, England, where it was up for sale as a garden ornament. He thought it was no ordinary ornament and purchased it. James Balme

The carving, which weighs between 55 and 65 pounds (25 and 30 kilograms), appears to be made out of a hard form of sandstone, Balme said. It stands about 18 inches (46 centimeters) high and is 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) thick.

The date of the carving is uncertain. Balme says that it may date to the Anglo-Saxon period — which started in 410 when the Roman Empire abandoned Britain, and lasted until 1066, when William the Conqueror and the Normans invaded England. But Balme can't confirm the carving's meaning or its purpose, and so he's seeking help from Twitter and Facebook followers.

The term "garden ornament" may conjure up images of tacky gnomes or other modern-day items. However over the past few years archaeologists have found garden ornaments that turned out to be ancient architectural remains from Israel, or ancient pottery from Egypt.

So the next time you see an old garden ornament that seems out of place, remember, you may be looking at a piece of history.

Image: Carving
The carving, shown here after restoration, may date back to the Anglo-Saxon period. James Balme
— Owen Jarus, LiveScience

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