A ROMAN tombstone of “national significance” has been found in a car park in Cirencester.

The tombstone, which is believed to date from between the 1st and the 3rd century AD, was found by Cotswold Archaeology at St James’s Place in Tetbury Road, where construction is taking place on an extension.

It is one of the best preserved tombstones that has ever been found in the UK, archaeologists said, and such an intact Roman gravestone has not been discovered for more than 30 years.

To see another example of a headstone from this period so well preserved, you would have to travel to Pompeii.

Archaeologists believe that it was resting on an adult skull before falling on its back and that the skull could be the woman inscribed on the stone.

The inscription reads: “DM [Dis Manibus, in the hands of God], Bodica, the wife lived years: 27”.

There is a blank space underneath which could possibly have been for a spouse or family member to occupy.

It is a remarkable find as the entablature on the top is not damaged, which only happens around 50 per cent of the time, and the inscription is extremely clear.

Neil Holbrook, chief executive of Cotswold Archaeology, said: “A discovery of this magnitude only comes every couple of years in Britain – to find one in Cirencester is incredible.” Another 55 burial sites have been found since the dig began in January, but none have yielded anything as significant as the tombstone.

An archaeologist on site said: “It’s a thing of beauty, a real career defining movement.”

The tombstone will now be assessed by experts, a process which could take up to two years, before it is laid to rest in a museum.

Amanda Hart, director of Cirencester's Corinium Museum, said: “It’s really exciting and it’s amazing to be part of this, to see the tombstone for the first time was just incredible.

“We have a number of finds from this site in our museum and I really hope we get this too.”

The excavation was part of a planning condition to extend St James’s Place, a wealth management company, and is funded by City Grove, a London based property development company.

Cotswold Archaeology excavated a site nearby in 2011, finding 75 burial sites and a bronze cockerel being cradled by a young boy.