Jim Irvine will never forget that walk where he stumbled upon a pottery shard. Someone else would have passed by. Curiosity piqued him. Back home, he searched for satellite images of his father’s grounds. “I saw a very clear cut mark, like someone had drawn on my computer screen with chalk. This was really the ‘oh wow’ moment, and the beginning of the story.” A history of more than 1,500 years that ends with the discovery of a unique Roman mosaic in the United Kingdom.
It was during confinement for the pandemic, in 2020. Son of a farmer from the county of Rutland, in the heart of England, Irvine did not know after that walk that his father’s grounds hid the remains of a Roman villa and, in it, a mosaic that – “almost like a comic book” – shows Achilles and his battle with Hector at the end of the Trojan War. The find has been released this Thursday by the University of Leicester, whose archaeologists have participated in the excavation.
Irvine immediately contacted specialists, who allowed him to assist in the excavations. “Between my normal work and this, it has kept me very busy, and it has been a fascinating journey. The last year has been very exciting to have participated and worked with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what it will be dug up later! ”
For now, what those archaeologists have unearthed are the remains of an 11 by seven meter mosaic: a work that forms the floor of what is believed to be a large dining room or entertainment area. Mosaics were used in various private and public buildings in the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from history and mythology.
However, the Rutland mosaic is unique in the UK and is one of the few examples in all of Europe with scenes from ‘The Iliad’, Homer’s account of the Trojan War.
It is the first representation of these stories that we have found in Great Britain
– Deputy Director of the Archeology Service at the University of Leicester
John Thomas, Deputy Director of the Archeology Service at the University of Leicester and project manager for the excavations, calls it without a doubt “the most exciting discovery of Roman mosaics of the last century in the UK”. “It gives us new perspectives on the attitudes of the people of the time and their links to classical literature. It also tells us a lot about the individual who commissioned this piece. It is someone with knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece. Such a detailed piece. It is the first representation of these stories that we have found in Britain. ”
The excavated room is part of a late Roman villa, between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD The manor house is surrounded by other buildings and elements revealed by a geophysical survey and an archaeological evaluation, among which are what appear to be Rectangular barns, circular structures, and a possible bathhouse, all within a series of moats. It is likely that the complex was occupied by a wealthy individual with a knowledge of classical literature.
Experts have identified fire damage in the past, as well as tile cracks that suggest the site was repurposed and refurbished. In addition, human remains have been found among the rubble that covered it. These would be burials made after the building was no longer in use.
Their exact age is still unknown, but they are later than the mosaic and were placed in relation to the structure of the building. This suggests that the villa was reused at a very late date from Roman times or the High Middle Ages, a period little researched in the UK.
By the way, the farm is private, so for now whoever wants to see Achilles and Hector fighting, is left with the desire.