A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester in central England certainly seems to have the golden touch.
Nearly a decade after uncovering the remains of King Richard III in a parking lot near Leicester Cathedral, the university’s archaeological team has uncovered a Roman mosaic featuring the great Greek hero from Achilles in battle with brave Hector during the Trojan War – this time in a farmer’s field. about 160 miles north of London.
The mosaic is the first depiction ever found in Britain of events from Homer’s classic Iliad.
John Thomas, deputy director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and project manager at the excavations, said the mosaic says a lot about the person who commissioned it in the late Roman period, between the 3rd and 4th centuries.
“This is a person with knowledge of the classics who had the money to order a piece of such a detail, and it is the very first depiction of these stories that we have ever found in Britain,” he said. “This is certainly the most intriguing Roman mosaic discovery in Britain in the last century.”
In view of its rarity and importance, the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Thursday awarded the mosaic the country’s oldest form of cultural heritage protection. It is now a planned monument, making it a criminal offense for anyone to dig around the site or even metal detectors.
“By protecting this site, we are able to continue to learn from it and look forward to what future excavations can teach us about the people who lived there over 1,500 years ago,” said Duncan Wilson, CEO of Historic England.
The mosaic in Rutland County was found by Jim Irvine, whose father Brian Naylor owns the land, in the middle of last year’s demolition during excavations of an elaborate villa complex consisting of a wealth of structures and other buildings. Irvine then notified authorities, leading to an excavation by the university’s archaeological team.
He described how what started as “a hike through the fields with the family” led to the “incredible discovery.”
“The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved in,” he said.
Archaeologists discovered the remains of the mosaic, which measured 11 meters by almost seven meters. Human remains were also discovered in the rubble that covered the mosaic, and are believed to have been buried after the building was no longer occupied.
The excavation, which remains on private land, has now been refilled to protect the site and work will continue to potentially transform the field into grassland to reduce the risk of future damage from plowing.
There is little time for the team at the university to rest after their recent excavation success. In January, they are to begin digging near Leicester Cathedral, in what is expected to be the city’s deepest excavation ever, in hopes of finding long-lost treasures from the Middle Ages and antiquity.
The team is best known for its search for Richard III’s lost tomb, which began in August 2012. In February of the following year, the university announced that they had found the remains of England’s last Plantagenet king and the last English monarch dead on the battlefield. He died in 1485.
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