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Roman villa complex with rare mosaic of Homer's The Iliad unearthed in Rutland field and filmed for BBC TV series



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A Roman villa complex containing the first mosaic of its kind ever found in Britain has been discovered beneath a farmer’s field in Rutland.

The mosaic measures 11m by almost 7m and depict Greek hero Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War.

It is the first example in the UK to display scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, and one of only a handful from across Europe.

Aerial view of the archaeological site which features the villa and several other buildings. Photo: Historic England Archive
Aerial view of the archaeological site which features the villa and several other buildings. Photo: Historic England Archive

The stunning find lay tantalisingly hidden beneath Rutland soil for around 1,500 years until last year's first lockdown.

Jim Irvine, son of landowner Brian Naylor, was on a walk with his family when he found pieces of pottery that had been unearthed by the plough.

“Finding some unusual pottery among the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigative work,” said Jim.

Aerial view of Historic England staff with team members from ULAS/University of Leicester on the site. Photo: Historic England Archive
Aerial view of Historic England staff with team members from ULAS/University of Leicester on the site. Photo: Historic England Archive

“Later, looking at the satellite imagery I spotted a very clear crop mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk.

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

Jim contacted Leicestershire County Council before a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), working in partnership with Historic England, went to work.

The mosaic and villa have been given protective status by the Government. Photo: Historic England Archive
The mosaic and villa have been given protective status by the Government. Photo: Historic England Archive

What Jim had spotted was an entire Roman villa complex, thought to have been occupied by a wealthy citizen between the third and fourth century.

"Between my normal job and this, it’s kept me very busy, and has been a fascinating journey," Jim added.

“The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved with, and to work with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what will be unearthed next.”

Jim Irvine and his father Brian Naylor pictured during the 2020 lockdown
Jim Irvine and his father Brian Naylor pictured during the 2020 lockdown

Such is the national significance of the site it was given protective Scheduled Monument status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport today (Thursday).

A geophysical survey has shown other buildings around the villa, including possible barns and bath house, and circular structures.

John Thomas, project manager on the excavations and deputy director of ULAS and project manager, labelled it the UK’s 'most exciting Roman mosaic discovery for a century'.

The mosaic is one of a handful in Europe found to depict scenes from Homer's The Iliad
The mosaic is one of a handful in Europe found to depict scenes from Homer's The Iliad

“The fact we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also hugely significant because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlement like these,” he added.

“But this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety.”

Human remains were also found within rubble covering the mosaic, suggesting very late Roman or early-medieval burials.

Broadcaster and archaeologist Alice Roberts during the excavations as part of the BBCs Digging for Britain documentary, airing in 2022. Photo: BBC/Rare TV
Broadcaster and archaeologist Alice Roberts during the excavations as part of the BBCs Digging for Britain documentary, airing in 2022. Photo: BBC/Rare TV

Evidence will be analysed by ULAS and specialists, including David Neal, England’s leading expert on mosaic research.

Historic England hopes the field will revert to grassland and is planning further excavations for 2022.

Rutland County Council have also been approached about an off-site display, and a bid to the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund is being prepared.

A team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations. Photo: Historic England Archive
A team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations. Photo: Historic England Archive

The site is on private land and not accessible to the public.

Richard Clark, County Archaeologist for Leicestershire and Rutland, said: “This has been the most extraordinary of discoveries, and for that, full tribute must be paid to Jim and his family for their prompt and responsible actions.

“The villa, its mosaic and the surrounding complex is the most outstanding find in the recent archaeological history of Rutland, placing the county on a national and international stage.”

A member of the team from ULAS/University of Leicester uncovering bone fragments at the archaeological site. Photo: Historic England Archive
A member of the team from ULAS/University of Leicester uncovering bone fragments at the archaeological site. Photo: Historic England Archive

The discovery of the Rutland villa will feature on BBC Two show, Digging for Britain in early 2022.

A battle scene from the Trojan Wars. Photo: University of Leicester Archaeological Services
A battle scene from the Trojan Wars. Photo: University of Leicester Archaeological Services
The mosaic features Greek hero Achilles. Photo: University of Leicester Archaeological Services
The mosaic features Greek hero Achilles. Photo: University of Leicester Archaeological Services
Dr David Neal making notes on his illustration during the excavation of the mosaic. Photo: Historic England Archive
Dr David Neal making notes on his illustration during the excavation of the mosaic. Photo: Historic England Archive


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