Unique Roman mosaic discovered in arable field

A one-of-a-kind mosaic that lay undetected on farmland for almost 2,000 years has been unearthed by archaeologists in Rutland.

The Roman mosaic was discovered by Jim Irvine, the son of landowner Brian Naylor, in the summer of 2020. Mr Irvine was walking the fields when some unusual pottery among the wheat stubble caught his attention.

The ground had been disturbed by fieldwork and he collected some of the fragments before returning home to examine satellite images of the area on Google Maps.

“I spotted a very clear crop mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk,” Mr Irvine said.

“This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment, and the beginning of the story.”

Jim Irvine and Brian Naylor

Jim Irvine and Brian Naylor © Historic England

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He contacted heritage advisers to the local authority, who recognised the find as exceptional, and Historic England secured government funding for urgent archaeological investigations.

Since then, the archaeologists have painstakingly removed earth and stone to reveal the extent of the artwork, which was buried only a few inches under the soil.

The remains measure about 11x7m and show Achilles battling Hector in scenes from the Trojan war, said a Historic England spokesperson.

Roman mosaic

© Historic England

Unique images

While mosaics were used across the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from history and mythology, these images are unique to the UK, the spokesperson added.

Only a handful of examples like this exist in Europe, and the Rutland mosaic could become world famous. As work has continued at the site in secret this year, archaeologists have realised the mosaic forms the floor of what could have been a large dining or entertaining area.

Further excavation this autumn has revealed it is the centrepiece of an extensive villa surrounded by aisled barns, circular structures and a bath house, enclosed by ditches.

Aerial view of villa site

© Historic England

Most exciting discovery

John Thomas, deputy director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, described the find as the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the past century.

“The Roman owner was someone 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.”

The significance means the site was declared a scheduled monument by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport this week.

Discussions are ongoing about setting up an off-site display, as the site is inaccessible to the public. Further excavations are planned in 2022, when the discovery will be the subject of a BBC documentary.

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