Boxford 2017 Part V: Fame and glory of the Boxford project

The following day (day 8) was a bit more tidying up, continuing cleaning back in the other trenches and removing more of the overburden on the mosaic. The realisation that we had something really (I mean really) special hit us today and we wondered what we should do next, never having been in this position before.

I belong to several Roman societies so compiled a Who’s Who in the world of mosaics and put together a list of high flying names I’d only seen on book covers and reviews. I jumped in at the deep end and rang the offices of the Association of Roman Archaeology, having read something about mosaics in one of their bulletins and recognising a couple of names. It must have been fate as I just happened to catch Bryn in the office (not usually there at that time). It was a surreal conversation as I explained I was participating in a community dig in Berkshire and we have just come across a rather remarkable mosaic and we don’t know what to do next! I think he was expecting me to describe a geometric pattern so there were a few moments of silence when I said there were pictures on it. After quite a few questions he said he’d get in touch with some other names (also on my list) and brief them then probably come out to Boxford within the next couple of days. That prompted a flurry of emails from excited experts and a date was arranged for a site visit.

Telamon figureDay 9 came and went in a blur of activity getting more of the accumulate layers in trench 3 recorded and cleared and the mosaic cleaned back a bit more. The corner roundel was fully exposed revealing the owner of the legs as an Atlas-type figure holding something above his head which looked like a ball initially. It appeared to us that the male figure was wearing ‘tightie whities’ as Steve delicately put it but we’ve since been told that no, he’s not wearing pants at all and the lines are to define his muscles. His face is unfortunately missing and as the tesserae used for this area are incredibly tiny, it is likely to be natural causes that resulted in this damage. This figure, which will be 1 of 4 positioned in each corner, is called a Telamon and in this humanoid and dynamic pose is an incredibly rare element of mosaics anywhere in the Roman world and unique for Britain. Go Boxford!

The exciting development on Day 10 was via a very small sondage (a small exploratory hole within the trench) done at the ‘deep’ end to see whether the mosaic continued to the end wall. The results came in to a drum roll and the answer was… yes. The same border tesserae were clearly visible in situ right up to the wall telling us that the entire length of the mosaic and thus the room could be confirmed, which was very exciting. As day 11 was to be the day when all our VIP’s were visiting we were still working at 8.30 p.m. cleaning back everything we could to give them the best shot at interpreting the images. A long day and a tiring day but one that nobody complained about. In fact, we had to scoot people off as the light was getting very poor and we still had to clear away the tools etc. We ended up doing this by the light of car headlamps! It was worth it though as the other images all across the floor were stunning, my favourite being Hercules about to clobber a centaur with his club. The Telamon ended up holding a corner of a central panel depicting parts from the Greek myth of Bellerophon (so we later learned from Anthony) including Pegasus and the monstrous chimaera.

Day 11 was another busy day, largely taken up by showing round a group of very excited mosaic experts, professors and CEOs. It was really lovely to meet and see the big names in Romano-British mosaics getting so excited. In particular Anthony Beeson who re-jigged his family commitments and brought his brother along with him and was so brilliantly enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We have since developed a great working relationship and he has written some fabulous articles on the mosaic and given a lecture to a packed audience on a very snowy Sunday. We are truly indebted to him.

As well as our VIPs we also had the local boys (and girls) in blue come to see us. They had been informed about what was going on and had been asked to swoop past every so often to check there were no uninvited visitors after hours. Each time their numbers swelled and on our last day they enjoyed a buffet lunch set up for our thank you party! In the photo below Matt is demanding one of his team off the site to sit in the naughty trench, Joy is helping with police enquiries and Steve is phoning his solicitor.

VIP visit

Days 11 to 13 were spent in a frantic blur of activity getting the other trenches all finished and recorded, showing more special visitors round and cleaning the mosaic. We had arranged for Luigi Thompson (an artist known for his meticulous paintings of mosaics) to come and take high resolution, close up photographs so he could record, in watercolour, the whole exposed floor so we needed to have every tessera clean and defined, including the border, as Luigi would be painting each one in the original colour. Another car headlamp tidy-up time was the order of the day.

Lindsey comtemplating a great weekThe close of play was looming and Day 14 was the last ‘proper’ day on site. An amazing buffet had been laid on by the BHP to thank everyone for their huge effort to make this a community project that will be remembered forever. This was followed by approximately 250 people turning up for the open day as word had clearly got out and I’m just glad they got a chance to see this stunning piece of Roman art. Thank goodness the weather behaved, and we didn’t have to drag 100 cars from the dreaded mud of Mud Hole. After an incredibly super-charged 2 weeks it was nice to find a quiet spot to just chill and reflect momentarily and where better than my plunge pool!

With so many visitors from the general public seeing the mosaic for themselves and sending social media messages etc., the security of the site was a bit of a concern. So much so that Super Matt (CA’s Matt Nichol) decided to camp out for the night in his car to protect it!

The only thing left for us to do was to put the mosaic back to bed on the following day. This was surprisingly emotional. I suppose after all the effort of discovering, revealing and learning about the images it was quite hard to see it disappearing again under a blanket of sieved earth and then the spoil which had hidden it for so long and kept it safe for us.

Boxford team

The current plan now is to return when crops and finances allow (hopefully 2019) to see what other secrets lie in Number 1 Mud Hole and to uncover the rest of Bellerophon’s story on the other half of the mosaic. Personally, I just can’t wait.

Lindsey Bedford

Share this!