Archaeologists hope to uncover a glimpse of the mysteries of cult worship in Roman Britain by excavating a vast religious complex in Ewell, writes Kevin Barnes.
A series of deep shafts found cut into chalk bedrock at Hatch Furlong gave researchers the clue that a ritual site existed there about 1,900 years ago.
Over the next fortnight an expert team led by Harvey Sheldon of Birkbeck College, London, intends to unearth the sacred stone building lying near the Ewell bypass.
Although similar temple complexes have been discovered in Britain, the dig may provide new evidence about Roman religion.
Ewell was the largest Roman settlement in Surrey, divided by Stane Street, a mayjor flint road between Chichester and London.
It is believed that weary travellers would refresh their spirits at springs in Ewell before making offerings to native deities.
In the 1840s evidence for a cult centre emerged as pottery vessels, wares, coins and dog bones were retrieved from the 30ft shafts. Many of the finds are exhibited now at the Museum of London.
The latest project will ensure the National Trust can manage effectively land given as a wildflower area not "a lost Roman ritual site full of votive gifts".
Caroline Thackray, the trust's territory archaeologist, said: "This is a great opportunity for us to learn more about the mysteries of this place using modern techniques."
"What is its meaning and importance? Who were Ewell's earlier inhabitants? And what was the reason for the chalk shafts that seem so bizarre to us today?
"We look forward to sharing a greater understanding and interpretation of our site with the local and wider academic community."
The excavation is supported by Surrey County Council, Epsom & Ewell History and Archaeology Society, Surrey Archaeological Society and the Council for British Archaeology South.
Local people can tour the site during two open days on May 5 and 6. Talks and an exhibition are planned at Bourne Hall Museum in Ewell later this month, from where leaflets with directions to the site are being distributed next weekend.
In September, Birkbeck College will run an archaeology course at Ewell Court House.