Boxford Community dig: Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage

Archaeologically speaking, the discovery in 2017 of the 4th-century Roman figured mosaic at Mud Hole villa, 1km to the east of Boxford, was of huge significance. It attracted press attention both nationally and internationally, and was described at the time as ‘without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years.’

The scenes depicted from Greek mythology, including the Triumphs of Pelops and Bellerophon, had rarely if ever been seen on a Roman mosaic from Britain before. News of the discovery of the mosaic, which once adorned a probable reception room at the south-eastern end of the corridor villa, was also announced on our website in 2017, with additional details provided following its full exposure in 2019.

The Boxford mosaic, depicting scenes from Greek mythology
The Boxford mosaic, depicting scenes from Greek mythology

The discovery of the mosaic, and an explanation of the stories from Greek mythology depicted upon it, were published later that year in a lavishly illustrated book, and a detailed account has recently been published in the journal of the Roman Society, Britannia. Both accounts were co-authored by CA Andover’s Matt Nichol, who led our excavation team throughout the project, and the late Anthony Beeson, an expert on Roman art and mosaics.

As stunning as the mosaic is, however, it was just one of the discoveries made during the course of ‘Revealing Boxford’s Ancient Heritage’, an HLF-funded community project set up in partnership with Boxford History Project and Berkshire Archaeology Research Group to investigate Roman occupation in this part of the Lambourn valley in Berkshire. During the course of the project, evidence was also found for a bath suite with plunge pool at the north-western end of Mud Hole villa, and other findings included the remains of another, larger Roman villa at Hoar Hill to the south of Boxford, and of a Roman farmstead with a barn and drying oven at Wyfield Farm to the north-east of the village, as well as a multitude of Roman objects from all three sites.

None of this could have been achieved without the endeavours of the project’s partnership organisations, who mobilised a small army of over 100 volunteers from local communities to ensure all aspects of the project were suitably staffed, and who also raised additional funding from a range of generous parties and individuals to finance the full uncovering of the mosaic in 2019.

For our part, CA Andover staff provided supervision and training for the volunteers in tasks varying from excavation and survey on site, to washing and cataloguing finds, and ensured all site recording was completed to professional standards.

Boxford Community dig: The 2019 uncovering of the mosaic in progress
The 2019 uncovering of the mosaic in progress

The climax of the 2019 season, when the mosaic was uncovered in its entirety, was a public open day held at the end of August, which attracted around 3000 visitors.

While the archaeological dividend of the project was abundantly clear, its wider legacy in terms of community and public engagement, enjoyment, inspiration, and learned skills also persists. There is little doubt that the project had a positive impact on the very many people who got involved, as the blogs and photos that remain on the Boxford Heritage Project website from 2017 and 2019 testify.

Boxford Community dig: Over 3000 people visited the mosaic open day in August 2019
Over 3000 people visited the mosaic open day in August 2019

In the words of CA’s Project Manager (and former colleague) Duncan Coe, “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”.

Martin Watts

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