Last summer, excavations at Rutland Roman Villa (best known for its ornate mosaic; see CA 383) revealed more details about this elaborate complex, shedding light on its function and chronology, and revealing that it underwent several redesigns over its lifetime.
The site was first discovered in August 2020, when Jim Irvine uncovered a few pieces of Roman pottery on farmland owned by his father. After a small excavation identified the presence of a mosaic floor, archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), supported by Historic England, carried out an initial investigation. As well as documenting the exposed part of the mosaic, this involved the survey of two fields, which revealed a sprawling villa complex. In 2021, further excavations revealed the entirety of the intricate mosaic, which depicts the triumph of the Greek warrior Achilles over Hector of Troy. It is located in what is believed to have been the dining room (or triclinium) of the main villa building, and may have been intended to demonstrate the wealth and knowledge of Classical literature, of the villa’s former occupants.
This past summer, the team returned to explore other buildings on the site, in order to learn more about the complex as a whole. One of the ancillary buildings examined was a large aisled structure, which appears to have begun life as a timber barn, but was rebuilt in stone in the 3rd or 4th century AD. At this time, it seems that, although the eastern end continued to be used for agricultural and small-scale industrial activity, the western end was converted for residential use, with the remains of several partition walls and successive layers of floor suggesting that this area had been repeatedly renovated. On the southern side of the building, the team found the remains of a bath suite.
New information has been revealed about the main villa building. The team established that some of the slumping of the mosaic that had been observed was being caused by a boundary ditch running beneath it. Pottery from this ditch has provided a preliminary 2nd-century date, hinting at the possible early origins of this complex. After expanding their excavation to the corridors on either side of the triclinium, the team also found that, on the western side, a patterned mosaic had collapsed into a hypocaust system below, but that another mosaic in the eastern corridor was still preserved, showing a kaleidoscope design (ABOVE). The relationships between various walls indicate that the dining room and its mosaic were later additions to this building, added during a major refurbishment in the 3rd or 4th century.
Among the more enigmatic elements of the site discovered during this investigation were two subterranean buildings. The first was a vaguely cruciform structure, which was one of the smallest buildings identified by the geophysical survey, but the second was much bigger and appears to have been built into the natural slope of the hillside, with evidence of collapsed columns and buttresses. The exact purpose of either building is not immediately apparent, although one or both may have been used as some sort of cellar.
While excavations are now complete, analysis of the finds is just beginning. John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS, said: ‘The investigation of this fascinating site will move from the field to the laboratory over the next couple of years, while all the finds and environmental information are analysed by the various specialists. We intend to keep people informed of developments as they happen, so that the post-excavation process can be followed as closely as the excavation has been.’