Boxford 2017 Part IV: More findings and exposing the mosaic

Plunge poolBy day 5 Trench 1 was cleaned back enough to see that we had a bath suite. There was a blackened sooty area which would indicate where the hypocaust stoke hole was and at the other end of the trench the unmistakable lines of pink waterproof mortar (opus signinum) where a plunge pool had been truncated. Tantalising tiny voids in the ‘floor’ surface may indicate the hypocaust still survives underneath but we weren’t to find out this year (I have since purchased an endoscope so watch this space!).

Trench 4 (building opposite) was looking really good with great preservation of walls. The thought is it may be a barn. The small square Trench 5 revealed the blob that was seen as one of a pair of blobs on the geophysics was actually a pillar base from a pair of entrance gates, joined by a wall to the barn.  Richard brought the drone to site and got some aerial shots for us but the weather turned rather stormy and the light a bit gloomy. Nonetheless we got some good overhead shots.

Aerial shot of site credit Richard Miller

On day 6 we had the pleasure of welcoming the 9-year-old winner of the YAC competition to write a Roman themed short story (we didn’t see the need to tell him he was the only one who entered but it was a good story!). He had a lovely day doing a bit of digging, some pot washing and metal detecting. He was thrilled to bits when he pulled a bit of plough share from deep in the spoil heap! I said he could keep that… his dad looked delighted.

Day 7, one week after uncovering a patch of our newly designated mosaic floor things started to hot up again. We were finally allowed to work at the lower levels of Trench 3, at the shallow end where the tesserae were showing. This was a landmark moment and one which will never be forgotten and can never be repeated. Being the first people to see a mosaic for the very first time in 1,700 years is something not many people have the privilege to be a part of and is etched in my memory forever.

Only a small part was uncovered but what was revealed was beyond our wildest hopes. Not only was the mosaic largely undamaged but pictures were starting to emerge. I think I was expecting some design work, probably a geometric border and more geometric patterns within which is the usual for Roman Britain, but this was something else.

Andrew cleaning the mosaicWe could see plants growing up from the border and the start of a roundel with a plaited pattern and a black and white image inside which was difficult to make out. Matt (and his grin) went hurtling to the tent to find a bucket of water and a sponge and we all watched in absolute wonder as he dabbed at the tiny tesserae and the colours just leapt out at us. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand to attention when I think about it now. It was at this point I took my favourite photo which was to become very poignant. Andrew managed to get up to the site and was given first go at cleaning part of the mosaic. His dream had finally come true and how timely. Just 6 weeks later Andrew passed away.

Looking at the roundel from various directions and wondering what those black things could possibly be was a bit like staring at those 3D image pictures you have to look cross eyed at and then the picture springs out of the page at you. I stopped looking at the black bits and looked instead at the white and immediately a pair of legs presented themselves to me from the thighs down! Once you knew what they were it was obvious. The urge to keep going was strong but that was it for today…