Three weeks ago in Boxford, England, a group of 55 volunteer hobbyist archaeologists unearthed what has been described as “without question the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years” (Beeson).
Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, amateurs working alongside several historians spent three summers to locate and excavate the remains of a large Roman villa, including this magnificent mosaic that dates to AD 380.
Roman villas of this timeframe usually consisted of several buildings: one for the owner and his family, another for the slaves, servants, and chef, and a third to store produce until it could be transported for sale. These buildings were arranged in a square or rectangle to create an isolated courtyard in the middle.
This specific mosaic would have been made toward the end of Roman rule over England, as attacks from Saxons to the east and Irish to the west grew in both frequency and intensity. It is likely that the owner of this villa fled with his family as the empire collapsed.
Experts say the complex mosaic depicts heroes of both Greek and Roman mythology, including Bellerophon, Hercules, and Cupid. However, while the elaborate design is eye-catching, the execution itself may be sub-par.
Anthony Beeson, a member of the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics and a member of the board of the Association for Roman Archaeology, said that the “mosaicist has had ideas above his technical ability,” producing what he called a “very sophisticated design done in a slightly naïve manner.”
It is incredible that such awe-inspiring art had lain just a few feet underground for millennia, only to be unearthed this year, and by amateurs and hobbyists no less.
Joy Appleton, the lead organiser of the Boxford Heritage Project, said, “We could never have envisaged such a stunning project when we started in 2015. It’s been hard work and the 50-plus volunteers have played a large part in this success. […] To cap it all we had the unexpected discovery of a nationally-important mosaic. What a way to end a project.”