Page last updated at 19:55 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 20:55 UK

Statue fragment shown to be Nero

Nero head
The marble head had been removed from the body and buried

Experts say they have proved a statue fragment found in West Sussex depicts the Roman emperor Nero as a young man.

Scientists from Bournemouth University have spent the day at Fishbourne Roman Palace using a 3D laser scanner to make a full head image from the fragment.

The confirmation that the head is that of the young Nero makes it only the third piece of its kind in the world.

The others are in the Museo Nazionale d'Antichita in Parma and the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

"For us, it is incredibly significant," said Dr Rob Symmonds, curator of Fishbourne Roman Palace.

"We have always known Fishbourne is an internationally important site.

"This reminds us that any one of the 100,000 objects found at this site could throw up an amazing surprise at any moment."

The fragment was found in the mid-1960s but was thought to depict the child of someone who lived at the palace.

Model of Fishbourne Roman Palace
Fishbourne became a a sumptuous palace during the Roman occupation

Most portraits of Nero were destroyed after he killed himself, having been declared an enemy of the state.

Dr Miles Russell, from Bournemouth University, said: "It is a very well executed piece, it is extremely lifelike and made out of Italian marble which had been imported here.

"It is a very expensive artefact, which has been smashed into pieces before being buried in foundation rubble."

The digital image produced by the scanner was compared with the known depictions of Nero in Parma and Paris.

Dr Russell said he was 100% confident they matched.

"He has that very distinctive hair over his ears and very distinctive almond eyes," he said.

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