Stunning mosaic found in Roman Villa near Boxford

The project.

Since 2015 Cotswold Archaeology has been involved in a three year community archaeology project “Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage”. A joint project involving the BHP (Boxford History Project), the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group and CA, the project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved investigating three closely linked Roman sites near to the village of Boxford in West Berkshire.

Supported by our archaeologists, the local community groups and volunteers explored the function, status, chronology, extent and relationship of the three sites, which represented a significant focus of high-status Roman occupation in the Lambourn Valley. During the first year of the project such investigations uncovered a large villa and bath house, with a farmstead following in the second year. Following on from a successful two years, the final year of the project did not disappoint!

Roman Boxford Dig 2017.

Roman plunge pool
Roman plunge pool

This year kicked off to a great start, with finds recorded on the first day comprising a child’s bracelet and coins. Led by CA’s Matt Nichol, with the help of Agata, Alice, Keighley and Joe, the volunteers worked quickly to uncover the remains of the main villa, a probable barn, a gateway into the courtyard and other associated features. Finds also include Roman pottery and tile (one of which is complete and has an animal paw print), animal bone and much more. Although the villa was of modest size and of a common design, with a series of rooms adjoining a corridor running the full length of its front, it had evidently been subject to significant investment and upgrades over time. These included the addition of a bath suite with a small cold water plunge pool located in the corridor at the villa’s northern end. The most  spectacular addition, however, was a mosaic placed in a room at the southern end of the building.

Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.
Volunteers hard at work on the potential site of a Roman barn.

The mosaic.

Our star find of the project was discovered during the initial stripping of the site, and measured over 6m in length. The mosaic comprised a highly decorated central panel surrounded by a plain border. Despite only one side of the mosaic being revealed within the trench, it is clear that the figurative mosaic is packed with mythical characters and beasts based on Greek legends.

Mosaic experts have visited the site and were explicit in their excitement and delight.  Anthony Beeson, one of the experts, said that:

 “This is without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years and must take a premier place amongst those Romano-British works of art that have come down to modern Britons.”

Our own Roman expert, Neil Holbrook noted that:

“The mosaic is a truly important find. Not only is it a fantastic new piece of Roman art from Britain, but it also tells us about the lifestyle and social pretensions of the owner of the villa at Boxford. That person wanted to project an image of themselves as a cultivated person of taste – someone familiar with classical mythology and high Roman culture, despite the fact that their villa was of relatively modest size in a remote part of the Roman empire. While this person was most probably of British origin, they wanted to be regarded by their friends, neighbours and subservients as a proper Roman.”

Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Matt Nichol working on the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic
Volunteers cleaning the mosaic

Iconography.

For those interested in the iconography, Anthony Beeson suggests that the sideways scene may be interpreted as Bellerophon, a hero of Greek mythology, at the court of either Iobates or Proteus.

Bellerophon was sent to kill the chimera, a fire breathing monster with the head of a lion, the torso of a goat and a serpent’s tail.

The chimera illustrated on the mosaic at Boxford is one of only two known from Britain which turns back to attack in the traditional manner. The others all flee.

Other figures on the mosaic possibly include Hercules fighting a centaur, Cupid holding a wreath, and depictions of telamons in the corners, who appear to hold up the central panel.

Other examples of Romano-British Bellerophon mosaics are known from Frampton and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, Lullingstone in Kent and Croughton, near Brackley in Northamptonshire.

Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand
Left to Right: Potentially Hercules fighting the Centaur & Cupid with a wreath in his left hand

What now?

A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)
A site tour during the open day (Saturday 25th August)

The Open Day last Saturday was attended by over 250 people who were able to view finds from the excavation, as well as the villa and mosaic. While the site has now been backfilled, it is hoped that future investigations will allow us to further our understanding of some of the features discovered, including the bath suite, and will reveal the mosaic in its entirety.

We have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in this project, and agree with the Chairman of the Boxford History Project who said: “Thanks to everyone who has contributed in any way to this amazing success. What a fantastic way to end this three-year project!

Steve Clark from the Berkshire Archaeology Research Group also commented “We’re very grateful for all the support provided by Neil Holbrook and Duncan Coe over the course of project and for the professionalism and patience of CA’s field staff in guiding us through the excavations. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have been led by somebody like Matt who has gone the extra mile to get the most out of our limited time on site each year”.

Our own Duncan Coe, who has been involved with the Boxford project for the last 6 years, stated that “this is one of the best examples of a project where a local community, local volunteer archaeologists and professional archaeologists have worked together to produce some truly inspiring results. We hope that the local community take away a greater understanding of the world around them and the time depth within the place they call home”.

For more information about the mosaic and dig go to:
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope
The mosaic after cleaning, note the Victorian land drain in the corner, and the manner in which the building has been terraced into the slope

Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology

As part of the recent ‘Festival of Archaeology’ events, on Saturday (29th July) Cotswold Archaeology attended ‘Bristol’s Brilliant Archaeology’ day held by Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery at the Blaise Castle Estate in Bristol, where thankfully the weather held off and a brilliant day really was had by all.

Ca stall - Festival of ArchaeologyCotswold Archaeology took over the Victorian Classroom (complete with canes!!) with displays and finds from recent excavations at Ding’s Crusaders in Lockleaze, and Glassfields in Bristol city centre. The finds from Dings, including jewellery, coins, worked bone hairpins and a cosmetic spoon proved very popular and lots of interested locals were able to find out more about the site.

The history of the Glassfields site as a Whisky Distillery also sparked interest from many Bristolians, who were amused to find out that the whisky they had once produced was ‘bland’, ‘highly suspect’ and contained added methylated spirits!!

making Roman broochesIn keeping with the Roman finds on display, children were able to turn their hand to making their own Roman brooches, complete with gemstones. Several different brooches were available and CA’s ‘Dannicus’ logo was a popular choice. CA staff helped with the creation of over 120 very colourful brooches, and even managed to find the time to adorn themselves.

Jessica Cook


Sir William Romney’s School Activity Day at Kemble

Our Kemble office recently welcomed students from Sir William Romney’s School  in nearby Tetbury. As part of the school’s Activity Week students from years 7 – 9 visit a variety of local and national attractions, and some students have the opportunity to visit and learn about businesses in the surrounding area, including Cotswold Archaeology.

students-posing-in-front-of-the-kemble-office
A group of students with a passion for history opted to take part in a day of archaeological activities at CA, giving them a taste of the exciting work our staff undertake on a daily basis.

stroll-around-the-airfield-with-jo-from-consultancy-teamIn the morning the students and teachers spent time out in the sunshine exploring Kemble Airfield with members of our Consultancy and Geomatics teams. They found out how we use historic maps and documents to learn about the history of a site before we excavate, and had a go at making a photographic record of a building, in order to create a 3D model.

After lunch they joined members of our Post-Excavation team, who introduced them to the world of finds. The students assisted staff in identifying and sorting different types of finds, including some quite unusual objects, while learning about how we date artefacts and how this can help us understand the historical development of an excavated site. They also had the opportunity to see some of the most exciting finds from our recent excavations, including those from a Roman Villa complex, excavated near Bristol.

 

Sir William Romney’s School is one of many local schools CA welcomes work experience students from regularly. During a week spent in one of CA’s offices, GCSE and A level students have the opportunity to spend time with staff in all of our departments in order to experience a taste of life as an archaeologist.

Finds-talk-with-Andy


Cotswold Archaeology at Stroud’s Museum in the Park

Cotswold Archaeology has just completed a scoping  and rationalisation study of the archaeology collection at The Museum in Park, Stroud. Hazel O’Neill (our Post-Excavation Supervisor at Kemble) and her team of volunteers audited and volunteers-exploring-stroud-museumphotographed almost 1000 boxes of finds and documentary archives, to allow the museum to better understand what they’re holding and how to store it safely.  Some of the sites dated back to the 1970s and featured some inventive on-site packaging!

While this project was running, other loyal CA volunteers have been continuing with their sterling efforts back at Kemble, in particular working on large amounts of finds recovered from excavations in the centre of Gloucester, and preparing these artefacts for deposition with the Museum of Gloucester.

sue-exploring-stroud-museumTo thank our amazing volunteers for their enduring hard work and support over the past year, on 7 February we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the stores of the Museum in the Park. Kindly led by Documentation & Collections Officer, Alexia Clark, the volunteers were treated to many sights, including the beautiful 18th-century book  ‘An Account of the Remains of a Roman Villa Discovered at Woodchester’ by Samuel Lysons, and the extremely rare bones of the dinosaur Megalosaurus Bucklandii. They also saw the patent for the world’s first lawnmower, and a desiccated cat that had been placed behind a chimney breast in a local mill to ward off evil spirits. It seemed to have worked, as the visit was followed up with tea and cake in the museum.

Hazel O’Neill

volunteers-visiting-stroud-museum


Today sees the launch of the second CA Christmas Calendar Competition!

Followers of our Facebook page will be treated to a daily photo and associated question, with those accumulating the most correct answers at the end of the 24 days going forward to a prize draw. The first out of the hat will then win a stunning one-off Hnefatafl set (similar to the below), hand crafted by Jack Windsor of Ignited Arts & Design, Maryland, USA. The board will be decorated using pyrographic techniques which, for authenticity, will be based on the Viking Jellinge phase. Jack is also designing us a one of a kind ‘King pawn’, the central playing piece in the game. Two runners up will also receive a Hnefatafl set, the purchase of which has supported the work of National Museums Scotland.

To be in with a chance, head over and like our Facebook page, then get your thinking caps on!

Ca advent calendar competitionhnefatafl-board


Skills for Stroud award

Cotswold Archaeology have just been awarded Full Recognition in the Skills for Stroud Work Experience and Employability Charter. This is a scheme designed to recognize and promote the career preparation and development of young people within the Stroud District area. Full Recognition was awarded to CA following a very detailed review of our current practices regarding work experience, volunteer placements, staff training and continuing professional development. The reviewers described CAs work experience programme as ‘broad, dynamic and of outstanding quality’, which is a great reflection on the many CA staff providing support to our work experience students.  Full details of the Charter scheme can be found on the Skills for Stroud website .

Skills-for-Stroud01