Archaeologists 'Floored' by New Discovery

on Wednesday, 04 May 2016. Posted in Archaeology

In the archaeology service most new archaeological discoveries tend to be through our advice on planning applications.  If a proposed development has the potential to impact heritage assets and in particular those with archaeological interest (as referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework), then we advise planning officers that a programme of archaeological investigation needs to be carried out in order to determine the significance of heritage assets affected by the proposals.  Since I joined the archaeology service in August 2012 there have been some really exciting discoveries through development management, an overwhelming amount dating to the Romano British period.  To name some of the top sites over the last few years that date to this period, we've had a Roman villa in Devizes, a roadside settlement near Beanacre, a high status farmstead outside Chippenham, two farmsteads on the outskirts of Trowbridge...the list goes on.  In fact I have been surprised at just the amount of activity going on during this period in our county. Maybe it's not surprising considering we have some major Roman roads running through (see map below) including the main routes from London to Bath; from Silchester to Dorchester (Port Way); from Lincoln to Exeter (Fosse Way) and from Winchester to Charterhouse (Mendips). The two towns of Cunetio (Mildenhall) and Sorviodunum (Salisbury) lay at important junctions of the strategic road network and other towns of Durocornovium (Wanborough) and Verlucio (Calne) are also known to lie along the road network.

Taken from 'The History of Ancient Wiltshire' Vol 2 by Richard Colt Hoare

Many of you no doubt have read recently in the newspapers or heard on the radio that there has been a major new Roman discovery in the Deverills.  We got a call from Luke Irwin who explained that whilst constructing an electricity cable to one of his outbuildings his workmen stumbled upon some kind of tiled floor surface and the tiles appeared to be quite small and colourful.  He ordered the workmen to stop digging and that is when he contacted us. Of course my initial reaction was that of incredible excitement tempered by the realism, "what are the chances", people often tend to over exaggerate the significance of archaeological discoveries in their gardens. Despite my cynicism I quickly arranged to visit the site the following day with the County Archaeologist, Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger. Upon our arrival Luke explained that one of his workmen was interested in archaeology so had meticulously cleaned the floor.  When we peered down the cable trench both our mouths must have dropped open and I think we both said at the same time "I don't believe it, you have got a Roman mosaic!!!”  There was no arguing with the clearly distinctive Roman mosaic pattern, a common geometric border pattern known as guilloche.

Shortly after I contacted David Roberts at Historic England, a specialist in this period and who is leading a project in the local area called PASt Landscapes.  Being part of the Investigation and Analysis team we discussed with David the need to obtain more information about the extent and significance of the site.  He then arranged for a number of geophysical surveys and a small scale excavation during the summer of 2015. The results have been outstanding, especially from the resistivity survey which clearly demonstrated a substantial winged corridor villa at the least but possibly a double courtyard villa (below).

The excavations confirmed the excellent preservation of the villa with walls surviving over 3ft high. More often such sites are damaged through practices such as cultivation of the land. The villa was built between 175 and 220 AD and was remodelled until the mid 4th century. A number of rooms can be seen from the survey surrounding the courtyard, it is estimated that there are at least 25 rooms on the ground floor.

We still wait a detailed report of the excavations but it certainly is of national significance and will go forward to the designation team at Historic England to enable its long term protection. The owner Luke designs high-end handmade rugs and so who would have thought such a similar luxurious floor lay hidden beneath his feet in his Wiltshire property.  He has been so inspired that he has produced a new range of rugs based on mosaic designs, as beautiful as they are I don’t think I’ll be affording one anytime soon on my archaeologist’s wage!

Rachel Foster, Assistant County Archaeologist

Comments (3)

  • VP


    11 May 2016 at 08:28 |
    Thanks for the fascinating insight into this exciting new discovery. I had no idea that Calne had a Roman name and I'm intrigued by your map of the Roman road network across southern England. Would it be possible to make this clickable please, so readers can see an enlarged version for a better look?


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