Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

A Roman mosaic depicting scenes from Homer Ilias was excavated in a farmer’s field in the English county of Rutland, in what archaeologists describe as the most “exciting” mosaic discovery in the United Kingdom for a century.

The 11-meter-long mosaic floor contains a panel showing Greek warrior Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind a chariot around the walls of Troy while watching his grieving father, King Priam.

The burial ground, located east of the city of Leicester, is part of a larger villa complex dating from the third or fourth century AD. It was discovered during the first coronavirus lock-up last year by Jim Irvine, the landowner’s son, when his curiosity was aroused by a piece of pottery spotted while on a family walk.

When he searched the field on Google’s satellite imagery, he found lines of previous construction under the wheat. “I saw a very clear cut mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk,” he said. “It really was the ‘oh wow’ moment.”

This is the first time that themes from the Ilias – one of the most celebrated epic poems in Western literature – was found on a mosaic in Britain, and one of only a handful of examples across Europe.

The mosaic is 11 meters long and forms the floor of what was presumably a dining or entertaining area in the villa complex © Steven Baker / Historic England

The mosaic formed the floor of what was presumably a dining or entertaining area in the villa complex that was probably home to a wealthy landowner. Geophysical surveys indicated the presence of barns, circular structures, ditches and a possible bathhouse. Archaeologists, who have been conducting complete excavations at the site since September, did not rule out that further mosaics may be found at the excavations.

“This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century,” said John Thomas, the project’s chief archaeologist.

“The fact that we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also very significant, because previous excavations on Roman villas could only capture partial photographs of settlements like this, but it seems to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its whole, ”he said.

Archaeologists from Leicester University examine the mosaic © Steven Baker / Historic England

After Irvine alerted local authorities, the excavations were handed over to Ulas, the commercial archeology unit of the University of Leicester, which had previously handled the destruction of King Richard III’s remains of a city car park in 2012.

The government on Thursday declared the site a scheduled monument, after taking advice from Historic England, the agency that protects sites of significance across the country, which provided emergency funding for the initial work in August 2020.

The excavations also revealed human remains from a later era. It is not yet carbon dated, but suggested that the villa was reused as a cemetery in the late Roman or early medieval period, when the building was no longer inhabited.

Archaeologists have collected extensive data from the mosaic tombs and the excavations have been temporarily completed until further work begins next year. There are no plans to allow members of the public to visit the site, which is on private land. Instead, one option being considered is to display the site in a museum using digital images.

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