Category Archives: ENGLAND

World’s oldest family tree reconstructed from Stone Age tomb

World’s oldest family tree reconstructed from Stone Age tomb

A nearly 6,000-year-old tomb unearthed in England holds the remains of 27 family members, representing a five-generation lineage descended from one man and four women, researchers have found using DNA analysis.

World's oldest family tree reconstructed from Stone Age tomb
An artist’s impression of how the Hazleton North barrow would have looked when it was newly built about 5,700 years ago.

The findings suggest there were polygamous marriages in the upper echelons of Neolithic society at that time because the researchers think it was unlikely that the ancestral man had four wives one after another; instead, he probably had more than one wife at the same time.

The analysis reconstructs one of the oldest family trees ever charted, said Iñigo Olalde, a population geneticist at the University of Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, and one of the lead authors of a study published Tuesday (Dec. 22) in the journal Nature. Scientists from Harvard University in Massachusetts, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and the University of Vienna in Austria were also involved in the research.

The new techniques are likely to be quickly applied to other collections of ancient human DNA, he said. “This study is important because it’s the first large family tree that we get from prehistory,” he said. “But probably in the next few months or a year, we will get many more.”

Neolithic bones

The bones in the study were from the human remains of 35 people excavated in the 1980s from the Hazleton North barrow in the Cotswold Hills, near the twin cities of Cheltenham and Gloucester in western England.

The barrow, or burial mound, was in a farmer’s field where hundreds of years of ploughing had threatened to destroy it completely, so archaeologists carried out the excavation to preserve what was left, Olalde said.

A few years ago, a different team of researchers extracted genetic material from the bones and teeth of the entombed remains, and Olalde worked with the DNA sequences they contained to piece together how the individuals were related.

It soon became clear that the interrelationships were very complex. “When this became apparent, I thought ‘Oh my God,'” he said. “It was quite surprising, but quite fun, to find all this family.” The analysis could pin down the interrelationships from just 27 of the 35 bodies, including two young girls.

Genetic analysis of the 35 people buried in two tomb chambers in the barrow shows that 27 of them were close biological relatives.
The genetic analysis shows that five generations of one family descended from one man and four women, were buried in the two tomb chambers of the Hazleton North barrow.
The Hazleton North tomb consisted of two L-shaped chambers within a much larger barrow made of earth and stone.
The barrow had been badly damaged by farmers ploughing the land for crops, and the tomb chambers were excavated in the 1980s to preserve what was left. The bones of 35 people were found.

The results showed that the men were usually buried near their fathers and their brothers. This finding suggested that descent was patrilineal — in other words, later generations buried at the tomb were connected to the earliest generation through their male relatives, the researchers said.

But the tomb was also split into two L-shaped chambers, located in the north and south of the structure, and the choice of which chamber individuals were buried in depended on the first-generation women they were descended from — the descendants of two of the women were buried in the northern chamber, and the descendants of the other two women were buried in the southern chamber.

That finding suggested these first-generation women were also socially significant in their community and that their status was recognized when the tomb was built, Olalde said. 

Family matters

Olalde also identified four men buried in the tomb whose mothers had been part of the lineage but whose fathers were not — termed “stepsons.” These stepsons could have been adopted into the family when their mothers joined it, although it was also possible that the women bore children from men outside the family who were not recognized as their partners, he said.

Two of the daughters of the lineage who had died in childhood were buried in the tomb, but no adult daughters of the lineage were buried there; instead, they may have been interred in the family tombs of their male partners, Olalde said.

In the same tomb, he also identified the remains of three women and five men who had no genetic relationship to the family. It’s possible that the women were married to men buried in the tomb and had either no children or only adult daughters who were then buried somewhere else, he said. 

The significance of the five unrelated men is not known, but they may have been adopted into the family or somehow connected through relationships that can’t be determined genetically, Olalde said. The Hazleton North tomb dates to very early in the Neolithic period in England, and it’s likely that the immediate ancestors of the people buried there had come to Britain from continental Europe as part of an immigrant wave of Neolithic farmers at that time, he said.

While Neolithic tombs found on the European continent don’t show such complexity, Olalde said, the relationships between those buried in the Hazleton North tomb probably reflect much earlier kinship structures within the immigrant society.

5 Ice Age Mammoths Discovered Near Busy Road in England

5 Ice Age Mammoths Discovered Near Busy Road in England

Experts who unearthed a 200,000-year-old mammoth graveyard say it is “one of Britain’s biggest Ice Age discoveries in recent years”. Archaeologists found the remains of five animals, including two adults, two juveniles, and an infant, at a quarry near Swindon.

5 Ice Age Mammoths Discovered Near Busy Road in England
The remains of at least five Ice Age mammoths were found at the quarry

The dig began after two keen fossil hunters spotted a Neanderthal hand axe.

Officials from the archaeological organisation DigVentures said that what they went on to find was “exceptional”.

The remains belong to a species of Steppe mammoth, an ancestor of the Woolly mammoth.

Close to the mammoth remains, the team also found a number of stone tools made by Neanderthals.

A research team led by archaeologists from DigVentures discovered “surprisingly well-preserved” evidence at the site

DigVentures began the excavations after being alerted to the site by Sally and Neville Hollingworth, from Swindon.

Ms Hollingworth said: “We were originally hoping to find marine fossils, and finding something so significant instead has been a real thrill.

“Even better than that is seeing it turn into a major archaeological excavation

“We couldn’t be more pleased that something we’ve discovered will be learned from and enjoyed by so many people.”

Excavations were carried out in 2019 and 2020 after Sally and Neville Hollingworth spotted the remains in 2017

Lisa Westcott Wilkins from DigVentures said: “Finding mammoth bones is always extraordinary, but finding ones that are so old and well preserved, and in such close proximity to Neanderthal stone tools is exceptional.”

Other discoveries at the site include delicate beetle wings and fragile freshwater snail shells as well as stone tools.

Research is ongoing to understand why so many mammoths were found in one place, and whether they were hunted or scavenged by Neanderthals.

The team recovered bones including tusks, leg bones, ribs and vertebrae belonging to a species of Steppe mammoth

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “This represents one of Britain’s most significant Ice Age discoveries in recent years.

“The findings have enormous value for understanding the human occupation of Britain, and the delicate environmental evidence recovered will also help us understand it in the context of past climate change.”

The discoveries are explored in a new BBC documentary ‘Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard’, with Sir David Attenborough

It is believed the site dates back to between 210,000 to 220,000 years ago.

With sites from this period rarely so well-preserved, it is thought these new discoveries will help archaeologists, palaeontologists, and palaeoenvironmental scientists address big questions about Neanderthals, mammoths, and the impact of a rapidly changing climate on life in Ice Age Britain.

The discovery will be featured in a new BBC One documentary Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard which will be broadcast on 30 December.

Some of the bones are now being examined for evidence of butchery, and further work is being planned at the site

Archaeologists Unearth Celtic Warrior Grave Complete With Chariot, Elaborate Shield

Archaeologists Unearth Celtic Warrior Grave Complete With Chariot, Elaborate Shield

Some archaeological finds have to be seen to be believed, and the discovery of the 2,200-year-old grave of a male Celtic warrior has experts very excited indeed – as you’ll understand once you take a peek at the haul.

Among the findings in the grave is an ornate shield described as “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium” by archaeologist Melanie Giles from the University of Manchester in the UK, as reported by the Independent.

Made in an early Celtic art style known as La Tène, the shield features an unusual scalloped edge and a triple spiral design called a triskele. The shield also shows organic forms such as mollusc shells, along with signs of having been repaired.

The shield was buried alongside a 2,000-year-old chariot drawn by two horses.

“The popular belief is that elaborate metal-faced shields were purely ceremonial, reflecting status, but not used in battle,” says archaeologist Paula Ware from the MAP Archaeological Practice in the UK, according to the Yorkshire Post.

“Our investigation challenges this with the evidence of a puncture wound in the shield typical of a sword. Signs of repairs can also be seen, suggesting the shield was not only old but likely to have been well used.”

Measuring 75 centimetres or nearly 30 inches across, the shield would have been crafted by hammering a bronze sheet of metal from underneath. Any leather and wood trappings that once existed on the defensive weapon have since rotted away.

Besides the shield, in a rather grim turn, the grave also features what looks to be a chariot, complete with horses – though it’s not clear if the horses were sacrificed for the purposes of the burial or had already died beforehand.

“These horses were placed with their hooves on the ground and their rear legs looking as though they would leap out of the grave,” Ware explained.

The horse remains.

Seeing all this weaponry, a method of transportation and provisions packed into the grave indicates how seriously Celtic tribes of the time considered the move to the afterlife.

The society that this warrior would have lived in would have wanted to give him as much help as possible in whatever came next.

The man himself is thought to have been in his late 40s or older when he died, sometime around 320-174 BCE. Nothing like this type of burial has ever been seen in the UK before, although another chariot-and-horse grave was uncovered in Bulgaria in 2013.

These latest findings haven’t yet appeared in a peer-reviewed paper, but come from a burial site originally uncovered in 2018, near the town of Pocklington, Yorkshire. A red glass brooch and pig remains (another potential animal sacrifice) have also been discovered in the same grave.

As work continues on the artefacts uncovered from the site, expect to hear more about this ancient warrior and his unusual burial in the months and years to come – there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

“We don’t know how the man died,” Ware said, according to the Yorkshire Post. “There are some blunt force traumas but they wouldn’t have killed him. I don’t think he died in battle; it is highly likely he died in old age.”

“What his role was I can’t tell you. He has collected some nice goodies along the way – he is definitely not run of the mill.”

1,000-Year-Old Ink Pen Found in Ringfort is Ireland’s Oldest

1,000-Year-Old lnk Pen Found in Ringfort is Ireland’s Oldest

The British Isles’ oldest-known ink pen has been found during excavations of a Cashel, or stone fort, in County Clare. Archaeologist Michelle Comber of the National University of Ireland, Galway unearthed the 1,000-year-old writing implement from the Caherconnell Cashel.

Ireland’s oldest ink pen was discovered at the Caherconnell Cashel ringfort among many fine craftworking and metalwork tools.

This 140-foot-wide ringfort was built in the late 10th century and would have been home to wealthy — and, it seems, literate — local rulers until the early 1600s. Other artefacts from the site have shown that the occupants engaged in varied pursuits, from fine craftworking and metalwork to trade, games and music.

Most examples of early literacy in Ireland come from the Church, whose hardworking scribes painstakingly copied all manner of ecclesiastical texts. 

Most famous, perhaps, is the Book of Kells — a manuscript created in honour of Christ in 800 AD that is resplendent with elaborate calligraphy and illustrations. However, Dr Comber believes that the individual who used the Caherconnell pen likely did so in order to record more mundane things like family lineages and trades.

Dr Comber told MailOnline that the bone-and-metal Caherconnell pen is the earliest complete example of a composite pen from anywhere within the British Isles.

1,000-Year-Old lnk Pen Found in Ringfort is Ireland’s Oldest
Ireland’s oldest-known ink pen (pictured) — which sports a hollow bone barrel and copper-alloy nib — has been found during excavations of a Cashel, or stone fort, in County Clare

Earlier in British history, however, the Romans were known to use pens that were made entirely of a copper-alloy, rather than sporting a separate barrel and nib.

In England, several copper-alloy nibs have been found, albeit without the necessary barrel, dating from between the 13th and 16th centuries. On the flip side, a couple of hollow bone pen shafts have been recovered from the London area that data to the 13th–15th centuries. 

If, as suspected given their lack of splint point, these were originally used with attached nibs — much like the Caherconnell pen — such have been long lost.

According to Dr Comber, perhaps the most curious part of the discovery is the context from which it appears to have originated, namely in a secular, rather than religious, setting.

Perhaps the most curious part of the discovery of the pen (pictured) is the context from which it appears to have originated — namely in a secular, rather than religious, setting

‘The Caherconnell Archaeology project has been a hugely rewarding one, with many unexpected and exciting discoveries along the way,’ the archaeologist explained.

‘This find has, however, exceeded all expectations, revealing the tantalising prospect of an advanced secular literacy in 11th-century Ireland.’

The fact that most known evidence of early literacy in Ireland is associated instead with the Church — and no pen of this age or type had previously been found — led Dr Comber to seek confirmation that the artefact could, indeed, have functioned as a writing tool.

Accordingly, she teamed up with experimental archaeologist Adam Parsons of Blueaxe Reproductions to fabricate a replica of the historical implement. 

Dr Comber teamed up with experimental archaeologist Adam Parsons of Blueaxe Reproductions to fabricate a replica (pictured) of the historical implement — enabling the duo to demonstrate that the artefact would have worked perfectly as a dip pen

When put through its paces, the duo found that the modern duplicate does work — and its original counterpart would have worked — just perfectly as a dip pen.

Dip pens are those that have no ink reservoir as is characteristic of modern fountain pens and need to be returned to a well frequently to replenish their supply. This in itself set the Caherconnell pen apart, as the more common writing implement in the 11th century would have been the feather quill.

According to expert calligrapher and historian Tim O’Neill, the design of the Caherconnell pen would have lent it well for use on fine work — perhaps even the drawing of fine lines.

‘A metal pen from such an early date is still hard to credit,’ Mr O’Neill said.

‘But the fact that it functions with ink is there to see. It would have worked well for ruling straight lines — to form, for instance, a frame for a page.’ 

Viking sword discovered on Papa Westray, Orkney has ‘many stories to tell’

Viking sword discovered on Papa Westray, Orkney has ‘many stories to tell’

A Viking sword found at a burial site in Orkney is a rare, exciting and complex artefact, say archaeologists. The find, made in 2015 on the northeast coast of Papa Westray, is being carefully examined as part of post-excavation work.

The sword was found at a Viking burial site on Papa Westray, Orkney

Archaeologists have now identified it as a type of heavy sword associated with the 9th Century. The relic is heavily corroded, but x-rays have revealed the sword’s guards to be highly decorated.

Contrasting metals are thought to have been used to create a honeycomb-like pattern.

Archaeologists examining the weapon said it had “many stories to tell”.

The remains of a scabbard, a sheath for the blade, was also found.

AOC Archaeology’s Andrew Morrison, Caroline Paterson and Dr Stephen Harrison suggested there was more information still to be gleaned from the finds.

The sword’s upper and lower guards are highly decorated

In a statement, the team said: “To preserve as much evidence as possible, we lifted the whole sword and its surrounding soil in a block to be transported to the lab and forensically excavated there.

“It’s so fragile we don’t even know what the underside looks like yet, so our understanding is sure to change in the coming months.

“The iron in the sword has heavily corroded, with many of the striking details only visible through x-ray.”

The excavations at Mayback revealed a number of finds, including evidence of a rare Viking boat burial, and a second grave with weapons, including the sword.

Archaeologists said the graves maybe those of first-generation Norwegian settlers on Orkney.

AOC Archaeology has been working with Historic Environment Scotland on the research.

Ancient Babylonian tablet reveals that Noah’s ark was rounded in shape

Ancient Babylonian tablet reveals that Noah’s ark was rounded in shape

Irving Finkel is the curator from central casting. Battered clothes, bushy white beard, little circular glasses, boundless enthusiasm. From a distance, he looks about 100, but as he sprints across the British Museum’s Great Court to offer the warmest of handshakes – he is 10 minutes late for our meeting – you realise he is much younger.

Ancient Babylonian tablet reveals that Noah's ark was rounded in shape
Irving Finkel, the curator in charge of cuneiform clay tablets at the British Museum, poses with the 4000-year-old clay tablet containing the story of the Ark and the flood, that claims the Ark was actually round

In reality, he is 62 going on 12, since a lifetime spent examining the clay tablets of ancient Mesopotamia has left him seemingly unaffected by the cares of the workaday world.

“The man who is tired of tablets is tired of life,” he announces in his delightful new book, The Ark Before Noah, which sets out to demonstrate that the biblical flood narrative was derived from stories that had been embedded in Sumerian and Babylonian society and literature for thousands of years.

The book revolves around a clay tablet dating from about 1800BC with 60 lines of cuneiform (the tiny, wedge-shaped script on the tablets), which relate to part of the flood story. Finkel first encountered this “Ark tablet” almost 30 years ago when a member of the public brought it to show him.

He has spent the past 20 years translating the text and putting it in the context of other flood literature and is now ready to unveil it to the world. This is in the form of his book and a Channel 4 documentary, due to be shown in August, which is building the ark to the specifications on Finkel’s tablet to see if it floats.

Finkel’s bombshell – and the point of the Channel 4 programme – is that he reckons the original ark was round. “The fact that the ark was round is the headline finding,” he says. “It’s something nobody in the world had anticipated because everybody knows what Noah’s ark looked like.” All those pictures of oblong, multi-decked boats that look like neat country cottages will have to be redrawn.

The mobile phone-sized ark tablet is housed in a posh-looking red box with “Instructions on the Building of the Ark” written on it. Finkel takes the tablet out of the box and lets me hold it – a chance to commune with the ghosts of ancient Mesopotamia. I manage not to drop it. As well as casting new light on the shape of the original ark, it also contains the first written allusion to the animals “going in two by two”. In the book, he describes unearthing this reference on the broken, weathered tablet with its worn-out wedges as his “biggest shock in 44 years of grappling with difficult lines in cuneiform tablets … I nearly fell off my chair.” He is good at conveying the excitement of academic discoveries, a television natural.

The tablet in Irving Finkel’s hand casts new light on the shape of the ark. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

He could have written up his findings in an academic tome that would have pleased his peers, but he has instead produced a digressive, amusing, personal book for the general reader, a book that is willing to ask big questions – such as how did the Babylonian ark story find its way into the Bible? – and make the odd educated guess.

“There’s very little in existence that helps people with this subject. Mostly we’re orientated to make it seem forbidding and difficult.”

The first draft was written in what he calls a “very defensive” way. “In the world of scholarship,” he says, “you don’t make a statement without supporting it with footnotes and references to German periodicals.”

“When I first wrote the book I did it feeling that all my colleagues were going to read it and they’d be saying [puts on whispery academic voice] ‘I rather doubt …’ But when I wrote the second draft, I suddenly had this brilliant idea that I would forget my colleagues existed and write for everybody else, which was very liberating. It meant I could speak with my real voice.” In the book, Finkel explains his own route into Assyriology and his continuing love affair with the subject. He had wanted to be a curator at the British Museum from the age of nine and was overjoyed when he joined in 1979. But how will those colleagues react? “I don’t know,” he admits. “They’ll probably all gang up against me at conferences and throw fruit.”

Finkel wears several academic hats. As well as being in charge of the museum’s 130,000 clay tablets, he looks after its collection of board games and has made it a personal crusade to preserve old diaries, launching the Great Diary Project to “provide a permanent home for unwanted diaries of any date or kind”.

What links Mesopotamian inscriptions and the humdrum diaries of elderly ladies from Carshalton? “I had this sudden epiphany that diaries were like clay tablets,” he says. In 4,000 years time, the shopping lists of elderly ladies in Surrey will be pored over with fascination.

Finkel sees his mission as rescuing artefacts of the past – clay tablets, obscure Indian board games, the diaries of ordinary people – before they are swept away, a latter-day Noah constructing a cultural ark. A round one of course.

Rare Physical Evidence Of Roman Crucifixion Found In 1,900 Year Old English Skeleton

Rare Physical Evidence Of Roman Crucifixion Found In 1,900 Year Old English Skeleton

Archaeologists in Cambridgeshire, U.K., have discovered what may be the best-preserved physical evidence of crucifixion—a 1,900-year-old skeleton with a two-inch iron nail driven through his heel.

Rare Physical Evidence Of Roman Crucifixion Found In 1,900 Year Old English Skeleton
The skeleton has a nail piercing its foot, perhaps the best-preserved archaeological evidence of crucifixion as carried out by the Roman Empire.

Originally unearthed by a team from Albion Archaeology during excavations in the village of Fenstanton in 2017, the remains date to between A.D. 130 to 337.

The findings from the dig are published in the new issue of British Archaeology magazine.

“This is an extraordinarily important find because it is only the second discovery of a crucifixion victim from Roman times,” John Granger Cook, a professor at LaGrange College in Georgia and the author of Crucifixion in the Mediterranean World, told the Independent.

He estimates that the Romans used crucifixion, which kills its victims through asphyxiation, to execute only about 100,000 to 150,000 people before Emperor Constantine outlawed the practice in A.D. 337 after converting to Christianity.

The skeleton has a nail piercing its foot, perhaps the best-preserved archaeological evidence of crucifixion as carried out by the Roman Empire.

As a particularly drawn-out and gruesome means of capital punishment, crucifixion is believed to have been reserved for enslaved people and enemies of the state.

Most victims were likely secured by rope, rather than nails, and would probably not have received formal burials, making it difficult to find physical evidence of their cause of death.

The deceased found in Fenstanton would have been a 25-to-35-year-old man measuring about 5 foot 7, reports the Guardian. His foot was nailed down to keep him from writhing around during his last moments, while existing injuries to his legs suggest he was kept enslaved and shackled prior to his death.

He was buried with a timber structure, perhaps the bier on which he was executed.

The skeleton was found during a 2017 dig in the village of Fenstanton.

Only four other examples of the remains of possible crucifixion victims, including ones from Gavello, Italy, and Mendes, Egypt, have been identified; this skeleton is the first to be found in northern Europe.

Construction workers in Jerusalem found the only other one featuring a nail in 1968, but the body was not intact, and thus is not fully accepted as firm evidence of crucifixion in archaeological circles.

“It’s essentially the first time that we’ve found physical evidence for this practice of crucifixion during an archaeological excavation,” dig leader David Ingham, of Albion Archaeology, told the Daily Mail.

“You just don’t find this. We have written evidence, but we almost never find physical evidence.”

Excavations in Fenstanton have turned up 48 ancient graves, as well as ceramics and and a horse-shaped copper alloy brooch decorated with enamel.

The village lies along an ancient Roman road called the Via Devana, between Cambridge and Godmanchester.

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field

Archaeologists have unearthed the first Roman mosaic of its kind in the UK, a rare Roman mosaic and surrounding villa complex have been protected as a Scheduled Monument by DCMS on the advice of Historic England. The decision follows archaeological work undertaken by a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), working in partnership with Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council.

The initial discovery of the mosaic was made during the 2020 lockdown by Jim Irvine, son of landowner Brian Naylor, who contacted the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council, heritage advisors to the local authority. Given the exceptional nature of this discovery, Historic England was able to secure funding for urgent archaeological investigations of the site by ULAS in August 2020. Further excavation involving staff and students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History examined more of the site in September 2021. The remains of the mosaic measure 11m by almost 7m and depict part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles.

The artwork forms the floor of what’s thought to be a large dining or entertaining area. Mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings across the Roman Empire, and often featured famous figures from history and mythology. However, the Rutland mosaic is unique in the UK in that it features Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War and is one of only a handful of examples from across Europe.

The mosaic depicts scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, about the epic fight between Achilles and the Trojan hero, Hector.

The room is part of a large villa building occupied in the late Roman period, between the 3rd and 4th century AD. The villa is also surrounded by a range of other buildings and features revealed by a geophysical survey and archaeological evaluation, including what appear to be aisled barns, circular structures and a possible bathhouse, all within a series of boundary ditches. The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual, with a knowledge of classical literature.

Fire damage and breaks in the mosaic suggest that the site was later re-used and re-purposed. Other evidence uncovered includes the discovery of human remains within the rubble covering the mosaic. These burials are thought to have been interred after the building was no longer occupied, and while their precise age is currently unknown, they are later than the mosaic but placed in a relationship to the villa building, suggesting a very late Roman or Early-Medieval date for the repurposing of this structure. Their discovery gives an insight into how the site may have been used during this relatively poorly understood early post-Roman period of history.

Human remains have been found at the site.

Evidence recovered from the site will be analysed by ULAS at their University of Leicester base and by specialists from Historic England and across the UK, including David Neal, the foremost expert on mosaic research in the country.

The protection as a scheduled monument recognises the exceptional national importance of this site. It ensures these remains are legally protected and helps combat unauthorised works or unlawful activities such as illegal metal detecting. The site has been thoroughly examined and recorded as part of the recent investigations and has now been backfilled to protect it for future generations.

The villa complex was found within an arable field where the shallow archaeological remains had been disturbed by ploughing and other activities. Historic England is working with the landowner to support the reversion of these fields to sustainable grassland and pasture use. These types of agri-environment schemes are an essential part of how we can protect both the historic and natural environments and have contributed around £13 million per year towards the conservation and maintenance of our rural heritage. They help to preserve sites like the Rutland mosaic so that people can continue to enjoy and learn about our fascinating history.

In collaboration with the University of Leicester and other stakeholders, Historic England is planning further excavations on the site for 2022.

Discussions are ongoing with Rutland County Council to explore the opportunity for an off-site display and interpretation of the villa complex and its finds. The form and scope of this work will be informed by the proposed future excavations and will be the subject of a future National Lottery Heritage Fund bid.

Image of the full mosaic in situ, displaying three panels (with damage) featuring Achilles.

The site is on private land and not accessible to the public.

John Thomas, Deputy Director of ULAS and project manager on the excavations, said: “This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last Century. It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature, and it also tells us an enormous amount about the individual who commissioned this piece. This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail, and it’s the very first depiction of these stories that we’ve ever found in Britain.

“The fact that we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also hugely significant because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlements like these, but this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety.”

Jim Irvine, who initially discovered the remains, said: “A ramble through the fields with the family turned into an incredible discovery. Finding some unusual pottery amongst the wheat piqued my interest and prompted some further investigative work. Later, looking at the satellite imagery I spotted a very clear crop mark as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk! This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment and the beginning of the story.

This archaeological discovery has filled most of my spare time over the last year. Between my normal job and this, it’s kept me very busy and has been a fascinating journey. The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved with and to work with the archaeologists and students at the site, and I can only imagine what will be unearthed next!”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “To have uncovered such a rare mosaic of this size, as well as a surrounding villa, is remarkable. Discoveries like this are so important in helping us piece together our shared history. By protecting this site we are able to continue learning from it, and look forward to what future excavations may teach us about the people who lived there over 1,500 years ago.”

Richard Clark, County Archaeologist for Leicestershire and Rutland, said: “This has been the most extraordinary of discoveries, and for that, full tribute must be paid to Jim and his family for their prompt and responsible actions. It has been a privilege to have been involved in the investigation and a pleasure to have worked with such a skilled group of amateurs and professionals. The villa, its mosaic and the surrounding complex is the most outstanding find in the recent archaeological history of Rutland, placing the county on a national and international stage and providing a vivid insight into the life and demise of the local Romano-British elite at a time of remarkable change and upheaval. The final phase of burials is just one of many intriguing aspects to the investigation, suggesting a continuing knowledge and respect for the site in the post-Roman period.”

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister, said: “This fascinating discovery of an elaborate Roman complex in Rutland is helping us to understand more about our history. I’m delighted we have protected this site to help further studies and excavations.”

‘Oh wow’: remarkable Roman mosaic found in Rutland field
An aerial view of the archaeological site, photographed by drone.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: “It is difficult to overstate the importance of this discovery, and the excitement which it will doubtless provide to countless people; from those well-versed in Roman archaeology to those with perhaps only a passing interest. Having been lucky enough to visit the site myself, and meet some of the Leicester students from our School of Archaeology and Ancient History gaining real-world experience with ULAS on this major project, I witnessed first-hand the thorough but careful work which our archaeologists have undertaken to further our understanding of Roman Britain.”

The discovery of the Rutland villa and filming as the mosaic is uncovered for the first time in 1600 years will be featured as part of Digging for Britain when it returns to BBC Two and iPlayer in early 2022.

Host, Professor Alice Roberts, said: “What I love about Digging for Britain is that, when we set out to film the series, we have no idea what discoveries might come to light. This year, the revelations have been nothing short of spectacular, and each find brings us closer to understanding the lives of people who once lived in Britain. Archaeology brings you into intimate contact with the physical reality of the past.”