Extraordinary Roman mosaic and villa discovered beneath farmer's field in Rutland, UK



A member of the team from the University ofLeicester Archaeological Services is in the UK. Credit: Historic England.

The first Roman mosaic in the UK has been found. On the advice of Historic England, the Roman mosaic and surrounding villa complex have been protected as a Scheduled Monument by the DCMS. The decision was made after archaeological work undertaken by a team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services, working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council.

Jim Irvine, son of Brian Naylor's landlady, contacted the archaeological team at the local authority after finding the mosaic. Historic England was able to get funding for urgent archaeological investigations of the site by ULAS in August 2020. Staff and students from the University ofLeicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History examined more of the site in September 2021. Part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles can be seen in the remains of the mosaic.

The artwork forms the floor of a large area. The Roman Empire used mosaic in a variety of public and private buildings, and featured famous figures from history and mythology. One of the few examples from across Europe is the mosaic from the UK, which features the battle between Achilles and Hector at the end of the Trojan War.

The room is part of a villa that was built in the 3rd and 4th century AD. The villa is surrounded by a number of other buildings and features, including aisled barns, circular structures and a possible bath house, all within a series of boundary ditches. The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy person.

The site was later re-used and re-purposed after the fire damage and breaks in the mosaic. Human remains were found in the rubble of the mosaic. The burials are believed to have been interred after the building was no longer used, and they are later than the mosaic, but still in a relationship to the villa building, suggesting a very late Roman or Early-Medieval date for the repurposing of this structure. The site's discovery gives an insight into how the site may have been used.

Evidence recovered from the site will be analysed by ULAS at their University ofLeicester base, as well as by specialists from Historic England and across the UK, including David Neal, the foremost expert on mosaic research in the country.

This site is a scheduled monument, which means it is protected. It helps combat illegal activities such as metal detecting and ensures these remains are protected. The site has been filled to protect it for future generations after being thoroughly examined and recorded.

The archaeological remains were disturbed by activities in the arable field where the villa complex was found. Historic England is working with the owner of the fields to make them grassland and pasture use. These types of agri-environment schemes have contributed around £13 million per year towards the preservation and maintenance of our rural heritage, which is an essential part of how we can protect both the historic and natural environments. They help to preserve sites like the Rutland mosaic so that people can continue to enjoy and learn about our fascinating history.

Historic England is working with the University ofLeicester and other stakeholders to plan further excavations on the site.

The opportunity for an off-site display and interpretation of the villa complex is being explored by the council. The form and scope of this work will be informed by the proposed future excavations and will be the subject of a future National Lottery Heritage Fund bid.

There are three panels with damage on the image of the full mosaic. Credit: Historic England.

The site is not accessible to the public.

The Roman mosaic discovery in the UK is the most exciting in the last century according to John Thomas, the project manager. It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature, and it also tells us a lot about the individual who commissioned this piece. This is the first depiction of these stories that we've ever seen in Britain, and it was done by a person with knowledge of the classics.

The fact that we have a wider context of the surrounding complex is very significant, because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlement like these, but this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety.

Jim Irvine was the one who discovered the remains. I found some pottery amongst the wheat that caught my attention. I looked at the satellite imagery and saw a very clear crop mark, like someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk. This was the beginning of the story.

Over the last year, this archaeological discovery has filled most of my spare time. Between my normal job and this, I've been very busy. The last year has been a pleasure to work with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what will be unearthed next.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said that it was remarkable to have uncovered such a rare mosaic of this size. Discoveries like this help us understand our history. We can continue learning from this site and look forward to what future excavations may teach us about the people who lived there over 1,500 years ago.

"This has been the most extraordinary discoveries, and for that, full tribute must be paid to Jim and his family for their prompt and responsible actions," said Richard Clark. It has been a pleasure to work with such a skilled group of people and it has been a privilege to be involved in the investigation. The villa, its mosaic and the surrounding complex is the most outstanding find in the recent archaeological history of the county, and it provides a vivid insight into the life and demise of the local elite at a time of remarkable change and upheaval. The final phase of burials is one of the more intriguing aspects of the investigation, suggesting a continuing knowledge and respect for the site in the post-Roman period.

The discovery of an elaborate Roman complex in Rutland is helping to understand more about our history. I'm happy we protected this site.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this discovery, and the excitement which it will doubtless provide to countless people, from those well-versed in Roman archaeology to those with perhaps only a cursory knowledge of archaeology. I was lucky enough to visit the site myself, and meet some of the students from our school who are studying Archaeology and Ancient History at ULAS, and I witnessed first-hand the careful work that our archaeologists have undertaken to further our understanding of Roman.

Digging for Britain will feature the discovery of the Rutland villa and filming as the mosaic is uncovered for the first time in 1600 years, when it returns to TV in early 2022.

When we set out to film the series, we have no idea what discoveries will come to light. The revelations this year have been amazing, and each one brings us closer to understanding the lives of people who once lived in Britain. Archaeology brings you into contact with the past.

The villa and mosaic were found beneath a farmer's field in the UK.

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