ONE of the UK’s most stunning Roman mosaics has been unearthed at an archaeological dig near Boxford – and the experts say it will go straight into the record books for its historical significance.
For the last three summer dig seasons, a project to map the area revealed a possible Roman villa site near Boxford, using records from when a drainage ditch was dug nearby in the 19th century.
A team of experts and volunteer diggers set to work this summer to identify the scale of the site and had high hopes that it may reveal something significant.
The start of most digs begins with a large excavator coming on site to peel off the top layers of soil prior to a more painstaking hand-trowelling into lower stratified levels.
It was at this point that the ‘eureka’ moment occurred, as the digger revealed the edge of an obviously high-quality late Roman period mosaic.
The mosaic is square-shaped, roughly 10 metres in length and on each side it has a half-metre border made from red roof tiles cut into cubes, called tesserae, forming a panel adjacent to the nearby interior walls.
Although only one side has been revealed, it is clear that a central square of the mosaic is also covered in intricate ancient dioramas.
Some of the classical figures uncovered read like a ‘who’s who’ of mythical icons, including Hercules, the god famous for his strength, Pegasus the winged horse, Cupid, the god of desire, and the Chimera, a fire-breathing beast.
Tantalisingly, a few letters, probably Greek, have also appeared in a line close to where the archaeology stops and if funding for another dig becomes available, this will be fully revealed.
Hundreds of visitors to the Boxford Heritage Project open day were treated to a brief glimpse of the mosaic and its villa complex before the discovery was covered with earth the following day to protect it from the elements.
The UK’s top experts on Roman mosaics visited the site recently and confirmed that this rare find has classical elements that set it apart from many of this country’s other Roman mosaics.
Cotswold Archaeology’s chief executive Neil Holbrook said: “This is one of the best 4th-century classically-inspired Roman mosaics ever found in the country, which sends the message that the villa owner was well versed in Greek and Roman mythology.
“The professionals and volunteers will remember the moment of discovery for the rest of their lives as this is a site of national importance.”
The villa dig at Boxford is the last of three summer excavations led by Cotswold Archaeology in conjunction with the Boxford Heritage Project and has revealed that Boxford’s Roman population was spread over a much larger area than was previously thought.
The lead organiser at the Boxford Heritage Project, Joy Appleton, said: “We could never have envisaged such a stunning project when we started in 2015.
“It’s been hard work and the 50-plus volunteers have played a large part in this success.
“Steve Clark and Lindsey Bedford from Berkshire Archaeological Research Group have guided us novices, with the help of Matt Nichol and his Cotswold team.
“To cap it all we had the unexpected discovery of a nationally-important mosaic.
“What a way to end a project.”