Roman villa and rare mosaics found in farmer’s field in Leicestershire

A UK team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) has uncovered a villa complex and a rare Roman mosaic while excavating in a farmer’s field in Rutland, Leicestershire.

Working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council, the archaeologists say the mosaic is the first of its kind found in the UK to date. The find was originally discovered by farmer’s son Jim Irvine during 2020’s lockdown. His father Brian Naylor contacted the archeological team at Leicestershire County Council and Historic England secured funding for the dig. Excavations in September revealed that the remainder of the mosaic measures 11 metres by nearly seven metres – it depicts part of the story of Greek hero Achilles, said the team, and forms part of an area in the villa that would have been used for entertainment and possibly as a dining room.

Part of the mosaic uncovered in Rutland

What makes the mosaic unique is that it depicts Achilles in his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War. The archaeologists say it is one of only a handful of such examples across Europe. It is estimated the villa dates from between 3 AD and 4 AD. A geophysical survey has also revealed the site includes other structures which appear to be aisled barns, circular structures and possibly a bath house, surrounded by boundary ditches.

Human remains have also been discovered within the substances covering the mosaic, which are thought to have been buried there after the Roman villa was no longer in use. The find is on private land and not accessible to the public.

The leading expert on mosaic research in Britain, David Neal, will examine the site, along with the University of Leicester team and and specialists from Historic England.

Revealing the mosaic during the dig

Deputy Director of ULAS and project manager on the excavations, John Thomas, said:

“This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century.

“It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature – and it also tells us an enormous amount about the individual who commissioned this piece.

“This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail – and it’s the very first depiction of these stories that we’ve ever found in Britain.”

Jim Irvine added:

“A ramble through the fields with the family turned into an incredible discovery. Finding some unusual pottery among the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigative work. Later, looking at the satellite imagery, I spotted a very clear crop mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk! This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment, and the beginning of the story.”


Rutland mosaic and surrounding villa discovery. Historic England staff with team members from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations© Historic England Archive. DP264284

Yo can read more about the discovery at Phys.org.

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