A fragment of Roman tableware, thought to depict a lion killing a gladiator, is among the exciting finds at an archaeological dig.

Nikki Cowlard, site director of the Church Meadow Project, said the piece of high-class tableware made in Gaul, known as Samian ware, was found last week at the site in Church Meadow, Ewell, which is about to be turned into a graveyard.

The dig is on the site of an important Roman road called Stane Street, but archaeologists have also just unearthed Neolithic pottery which predate the Roman finds by 3,000 years.

Ms Cowlard said: "The Samian sherd is 2nd century in date and was made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian or Antoninus Pius."

Hadrian is known for building the wall marking the northern limit of Roman Britain and Antoninus was his adopted son.

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She said they have also found personal adornments including brooches and a hairpin with a cone decoration at the end.

She said: "We have found a number of coins with low dominations."

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Bill Meads

The excavation has now entered its second week and more than 70 volunteers are expected to dig or process finds on site over the three weeks the trench is open.

Ms Cowlard said: "Last year’s excavation produced more than 2.5kg of Samian showing that Ewell was more than a small rural settlement.

"A series of Roman pits, ditches and gullies were uncovered beneath an area of disturbance caused by deep steam ploughing.

"Excitingly, a few sherds of Neolithic pottery, over 5,000 years old, were also found suggesting that Ewell has always been a desirable place to live!"

The site is the last open space in Ewell through which Stane Street, the Roman road between London and Chichester, is thought to have run.

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Matilda Senior and Sarah Sinclair

It is likely that Roman Ewell grew up alongside the road, perhaps offering accommodation and supplies to travellers and acting as a market centre.

The springs appear to have had a religious significance even before the Roman period and Stane Street is believed to have been diverted to pass by the springs.

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Emma Corke

St Mary's Church has granted permission for a series of excavations before the site is incorporated into to the graveyard next door.

Ms Cowlard said: "This is the last opportunity to look at activity alongside the road and to chart the actual alignment of Stane Street as it heads north out of Ewell towards Southwark and Roman London."

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The site will be open to visitors on Ewell Village Day this Saturday, July 13.

Visit www.epsomewellhistory.org.uk.