Excavations by Oxford Archaeology (OA) in advance of the construction of a new supermarket on the outskirts of Olney in Buckinghamshire have revealed a detailed mosaic floor situated within a previously unknown Roman townhouse, or domus.
When the site, on the west side of the Warrington Road (A509), was chosen for development, it was already suspected that it might yield Roman remains, as on the east side of the road is a known Roman settlement, which was first identified in the 19th century after significant quantities of Roman pottery and coins were recovered from the fields there. It has since been Scheduled as a rare example of a Roman settlement containing both urban and rural features.
As this monument has only ever been non-invasively surveyed, the recent excavations across the road gave archaeologists a rare opportunity to gain new insights into the settlement. The team from OA quickly uncovered the remains of several stone structures, including part of a Roman bathhouse, as well as others that may have been cisterns used for water collection. The most significant discovery, though, was the possible domus. As the house’s footprint extends under the Warrington Road, its full layout could not be determined, but two small rooms as a well as one large central room containing the mosaic floor were revealed.
It was not possible to excavate the entirety of the mosaic, but the sections that were uncovered showed a two-strand braid making up the outer border, with a decorative infill using vibrant red-, blue-, and cream-coloured tiles. David Neal, an expert in Roman mosaics who examined this new find, believes it may be an example of the Durobrivan group, which is found across the East Midlands. In particular, it appears to be similar to a mosaic found at Great Staughton in Cambridgeshire in 1958.
The mosaic will now be carefully preserved in situ with the whole excavated surface re-covered using materials that will protect the tiles from any wear or damage in the future.