Wed, 11 Sept 2019
A unique Roman mosaic, more than 1,700 years old and described by experts as “the most spectacular and innovative ever found in Britain” was unveiled to the public at Boxford at the weekend.
The mosaic, measuring 6m square, is one of only three of its kind in the world, with one depiction only repeated in the Vatican in Rome.
The main theme of the mosaic is the triumphs of Greek heroes Bellerophon and Pelops.
The funeral games given by Pelops for his defeated opponent became the mythical forerunner of the Olympic Games.
There are only two other known examples of the story of Pelops portrayed on a mosaic in the whole of the Roman Empire.
Hundreds of eager visitors gathered around the dig site to hear one of the UK’s leading experts on mosaics, Anthony Beeson, describe the various Greek mythical figures depicted in front of them.
Mr Beeson captivated his audience, explaining the various figures on show, such as Bellerophon, Hercules, Pegasus and Cupid.
He described the find as “the most spectacular and innovative Roman mosaic ever found in Britain”.
He said: “The main action is the story of Pelops, a grandson of Zeus, and chariot race to win the hand of Princess Hippodamia, complete with four horses and a winning post.”
The open day, attended by around 3,000 people from across the country, was the culmination of two digs at the Roman villa complex by a large team of volunteers, organised by the Boxford History Project (BHP) and Cotswold Archaeology.
The chairwoman of the Boxford History Project, Joy Appleton, said of the number of visitors: “It is frightening in one sense, they must have come a long way, from all over the country.”
The mosaic was first discovered in 2017, following the investigation of three closely-located Roman sites within the parish.
Now, after nearly two years of fundraising by the BHP, the whole of the mosaic has been revealed and cleaned.
The work was carried out over a 10-day period by more than 100 volunteers, mainly from the local community, with one coming from the US, together with local amateur archaeologists.
Lead archaeologist from Cotswold Archaeology Matt Nichol told the Newbury Weekly News: “The imagery and iconography on the mosaic is second to none in the Roman Empire.
“There’s a real buzz and excitement on this project that I have never seen before.”
Mrs Appleton said: “In 10 days only, the volunteers managed to clear the entire mosaic area.
“We have a passion to understand our local history and this is totally unknown in the UK.
“This is a wonderful addition to the history of art in Britain.
“Thanks go to everyone who has contributed or volunteered in any way. Most of all, our heartiest thanks go to the many generous sponsors without whom this project would never have been realised.”
The prospect of removing the find and putting it in a museum has been ruled out as Mrs Appleton explained: “We have been told that there is no point removing it because it is too big for museums. The mosaic will now be covered over once more, to protect it and allow farming to continue.”