Category Archives: ENGLAND

Roman Malting Oven Uncovered in England

Roman Malting Oven Uncovered in England

Roman Malting Oven Uncovered in England
Archaeologists unearthed the remains of a Roman oven during excavations at Field 44 in Bedfordshire, at a dig taking place near the Black Cat roundabout

Archaeologists have identified evidence of 2,000-year-old beer production at a site of a road improvement scheme. The remains of a Roman malting oven and charred spelt grains were found during digging in Bedfordshire, as part of the proposed work on the A428 between the Black Cat roundabout and Caxton Gibbet.

Experts have analysed the grains and said they suggested people who lived there were involved in making beer.

The site, known as Field 44, was excavated from July to February.

During the dig, the team from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) and the Cambridge Archaeological Unit discovered the remains of a farmstead that they believed was in use from the Middle Iron Age to the late Roman period.

The Iron Age in Britain ran from about 800BC until the period of Roman rule, which ran from AD43 until about AD410.

They said archaeobotanists, who specialise in the study of past human-plant interactions, had since identified that the charred spelt grains were left to germinate before being dried in a kiln.

“As large quantities of grains are only allowed to germinate when the aim is to produce malt – the first step in the brewing process – this strongly suggests the people living at the settlement were involved in beer production,” a Mola spokesperson said.

Archaeologists prepared soil samples for analysis
The grains were probably burnt by accident, but it helped their research, project science advisor Rachel Ballantyne said

However, they added that little evidence of the structures needed for brewing had yet been identified, so it was unclear whether the people at Field 44 were completing the process on-site.

Project science advisor Rachel Ballantyne said: “It is possible only malt was being produced here, which was then taken to be brewed elsewhere.

“This raises interesting questions about how the people living on this farm might have been interacting with neighbouring communities as part of a wider trade network.

“The germinated grains are likely to have been accidentally burnt, but this ancient mistake has benefitted our research.”

Mola said research on the discoveries at Field 44 continued.

The dig revealed the remains of a farmstead, thought to be in use from the Middle Iron Age to the late Roman period

The Search for “Lost” Royal Graves in Britain and Ireland

The Search for “Lost” Royal Graves in Britain and Ireland

The graves of dozens of what may have been early British kings, queens, princes and princesses from the era of the mythical King Arthur have been revealed by a new study. It suggests that British royal graves dating from between the fifth and the seventh centuries A.D. have been overlooked until now, possibly because they weren’t elaborate and contained no valuable grave goods. 

The Search for “Lost” Royal Graves in Britain and Ireland
The new study identifies British Royal graves from the era of the mythical King Arthur. Several places in Britain are claimed to be the location of his burial, but according to some legends, Arthur was taken by a magical boat to the mystical Isle of Avalon after being mortally wounded in battle.

The research reconsiders archaeological evidence from a little-understood period of British history, between the end of Roman rule and the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms — a time traditionally described by the legends of King Arthur.

The new study by Ken Dark, an emeritus professor of archaeology and history at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, identifies what may be up to 65 graves of post-Roman British kings and their families at about 20 burial sites across the west of England and Wales, including the modern English counties of Somerset and Cornwall.

The British continued to rule in what is now the west of England, Wales, and parts of Scotland in the centuries after the end of Roman rule in Britain in the early fifth century, while the invading Anglo-Saxons settled in the east. 

But while Anglo-Saxon rulers of the time were given elaborate burials with valuable and ornate grave gifts, the Christian British may have viewed this as a pagan practice, Dark said. 

The study suggests the “lost” graves of the post-Roman British royalty are the enclosure graves found at several early Christian burial sites throughout the west of England and Wales.

Instead, the British seemed to have buried their royalty without grave goods in simple graves without stone inscriptions alongside the graves of common Christians – although many of the royal graves were enclosed by a rectangular ditch and probably surrounded by a fence that has since rotted away, he said.

Dark, who is now at the University of Navarra in Spain, is the author of the study published this month in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

“The royal graves are very standardized,” he told Live Science. “They have some variation, just like the ordinary graves do — some are bigger, some are smaller, some have only one grave in the centre while others have two or three.”

Post-Roman Britain

Roman rule in Britain lasted from A.D. 43, following a Roman invasion under the emperor Claudius, until about A.D. 410, when the last Roman troops were recalled to Gaul (modern France) amid internal rebellions in the Roman Empire and invasions by Germanic tribes. (The Roman general Julius Caesar invaded southern Britain in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C., but he didn’t establish a permanent Roman rule.)

Between the fifth and seventh centuries, the Christian British ruled what are now western England and Wales as a patchwork of small kingdoms that tried to continue Christian Roman traditions. In the same period, pagan Germanic tribes — the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who originated in the north of Europe — invaded and settled in the eastern parts of the country.

Graves thought to be of British kings, covered with mounds of earth, were also found at Tintagel on the coast of Cornwall – a site long associated with British royalty, and especially some legends of King Arthur.

The legends of King Arthur, who was supposedly British and Christian, are set in this period, although most historians think Arthur didn’t actually exist. (Dark, however, suggests that a real person or a fictional hero of that name was famous as early as the sixth century because Dark’s previous studies have suggested there was a sudden spike in the use of the name “Arthur” among British and Irish royal families at the time.)

Dark began his investigation to address a long-standing archaeological mystery: while many British kings were known to have lived during this time period, almost none of their graves had ever been found.

Until this study, the burial of only one British king from this era was known after being discovered in the northwest of Wales; an inscription on a gravestone name the person buried there as Catamanus (Cadfan in Welsh) and declares that he was a king (rex in Latin.) 

But Cadfan may have retired from the kingship to become a monk before his death, and the phrasing of the inscription implies his grave was being commemorated because of his status as a monk, Dark said. 

Meanwhile, the graves of at least nine Anglo-Saxon rulers from the period have been found, including one at the famous ship-burial at Sutton Hoo near the east coast of England.

Royal graves

To get to the bottom of the mystery, Dark reviewed the archaeological work previously done at thousands of burial sites from this period in the west of Britain and Ireland. His study suggests that the British royal graves were placed within early Christian cemeteries; and while they were marked out as those of high-status people, they seem very humble compared to ornate pagan graves and none have stones with inscriptions stating who was buried there. 

The outer enclosures vary in size and some contain up to four graves, but they are typically about 15 to 30 feet (4 to 9 meters) across and up to 30 feet (9 m) long.

“We’ve got a load of burials that are all the same, and a tiny minority of those burials are marked out as being of higher status than the others,” Dark said. “When there are no other possible candidates, that seems to me to be a pretty good argument for these being the ‘lost’ royal burials.”

At one site at Tintagel, a fortified peninsula on the coast of Cornwall that’s long been associated with post-Roman British royalty and legends of King Arthur, what are thought to be five British royal graves in an early Christian cemetery take another form. Each was covered by a mound of earth, possibly because Irish royal graves are also covered with mounds called “ferta,” he said. (The post-Roman British had strong links to Celtic Ireland; the ancient Irish and British were both of Celtic origin and had similar languages.)

But the pattern of placing the royal graves at the centre of an enclosure – usually rectangular, but sometimes circular – appears to be a burial style developed by Christians in late Roman Britain, he said. 

“The enclosed grave tradition comes straight out of late Roman burial practices,” he said. “And that’s a good reason why we have them in Britain, but not in Ireland — because Britain was part of the Roman empire, and Ireland wasn’t,” he said. 

Although previous studies had noted the enclosed graves were thought to hold people of high social status, rather than royals; and archaeologists were expecting royal burials to be covered by mounds of earth or marked with inscriptions on stone, he said. “But I’m suggesting that this burial practice was specifically royal.”

An English Teacher of History and a 9000-year-old cheddar man have the same DNA

An English Teacher of History and a 9000-year-old cheddar man have the same DNA

Separated by 10,000 years but linked by DNA! A 9,000 year old skeleton’s DNA was tested and it was concluded that a living relative was teaching history about a half mile away, tracing back nearly 300 generations!

Four years before, when Adrian Targett, a retired history teacher from Somerset, walked into his local news-agent’s, he was startled to see a familiar face staring up at him. That face, appearing on the front page of several newspapers, belonged to a distant relative of his — around 10,000 years distant, actually — known as Cheddar Man.

Ancient DNA from Cheddar Man, a Mesolithic skeleton discovered in 1903 at Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, has helped Museum scientists paint a portrait of one of the oldest modern humans in Britain.

This discovery is consistent with a number of other Mesolithic human remains discovered throughout Europe. Cheddar Man is the oldest complete skeleton to be discovered in the UK and has long been hailed as the first modern Briton who lived around 7,150 BC. His remains are kept by London’s Natural History Museum, in the Human Evolution gallery.

The Cheddar Man earned his name, not because of his fondness for cheese, which likely wasn’t cultivated until around 3,000 years later, but because he was found in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England (which is, incidentally, where cheddar cheese originates).

Some 25 years ago, in an amazing piece of DNA detective work, using genetic material taken from the cavity of one of Cheddar Man’s molar teeth, scientists were able to identify Mr Targett, 62, as a direct descendant.

Analysis of his nuclear DNA indicates that he was a typical member of the Western European hunter-gatherer population at the time, with lactose intolerance, probably with light-coloured eyes (most likely green but possibly blue or hazel), dark brown or black hair, and dark/dark-to-black skin, although an intermediate skin colour cannot be ruled out.

There are a handful of genetic variants linked to reduced pigmentation, including some that are very widespread in European populations today. However, Cheddar Man had “ancestral” versions of all these genes, strongly suggesting he would have had a “dark to black” skin tone.

Now Cheddar Man is back in the headlines because a new study of his DNA, using cutting edge technology, has enabled researchers to create a forensic reconstruction of his facial features, skin and eye colouring, and hair texture. And the biggest surprise is the finding that this ancient Brit had ‘dark to black skin — and bright blue eyes. (A previous reconstruction, before detailed genetic sequencing tests were available, assumed a white face, brown eyes and a ‘cartoon’ caveman appearance.)

No one had thought to tell Mr Targett any of this or invite him to the unveiling of the new reconstruction of his ancestor at the Natural History Museum on Monday.

‘I do feel a bit more multicultural now,’ he laughs. ‘And I can definitely see that there is a family resemblance. That nose is similar to mine. And we have both got those blue eyes.’

The initial scientific analysis in 1997, carried out for a TV series on archaeological findings in Somerset, revealed Mr Targett’s family line had persisted in the Cheddar Gorge area for around nine millennia, their genes being passed from mother to daughter through what is known as mitochondrial DNA which is inherited from the egg.

To put it simply, Adrian Targett and Cheddar Man have a common maternal ancestor.

Cheddar Man’s remains were found inside Gough’s Cave in Somerset in 1903

It is only Cheddar Man’s skin colouring that marks the difference across this vast space of time. It was previously assumed that human skin tones lightened some 40,000 years ago as populations migrated north out of the harsh African sunlight where darker skin had a protective function.

At less sunny latitudes, lighter skin would have conferred an evolutionary advantage because it absorbs more sunlight which is required to produce vitamin D, a nutrient vital for preventing disabling illnesses such as bone disease rickets. Later, when farming crops began to replace hunter-gatherer lifestyles and communities ate less meat, offal and oily fish — a dietary source of vitamin D — paler skins would have conferred an even greater advantage and accelerated the spread of relevant genes.

Earlier research suggested Cheddar Man looked like the impression, right, but now scientists are convinced he was dark-skinned and had blue eyes and dark hair

However, Cheddar Man’s complexion chimes with more recent research suggesting genes linked to lighter skin only began to spread about 8,500 years ago, according to population geneticists at Harvard University.

They report that over a period of 3,000 years, dark-skinned hunter-gatherers such as Mr Targett’s ancestors interbred with early farmers who migrated from the Middle East and who carried two genes for light skin (known as SLC24A5 and SLC45A2).

It is no surprise Cheddar Gorge remains Britain’s prime site for Palaeolithic human remains. Cheddar Man was buried alone in a chamber near a cave mouth. But it’s not just Adrian Targett who has links with him. Indeed for many modern Britons, Cheddar Man’s true face offers a uniquely close DNA encounter with their past. Modern Britons draw about 10 per cent of their genetic ancestry from the West European hunter-gatherer population from which Cheddar Man sprang.

“Incredibly rare” 180-million-year-old giant “sea dragon” fossil discovered in the U.K.

“Incredibly rare” 180-million-year-old giant “sea dragon” fossil discovered in the U.K.

Palaeontologists have made a massive discovery in the United Kingdom’s smallest county — the fossilized remains of a giant Jurassic sea creature. The fossil, which researchers said is “very well-preserved,” is said to be the “palaeontological discovery of a lifetime,” according to the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

The fossil was found at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in central England in February 2021, according to an announcement from the wildlife trust.

Joe Davis, who works on the water conservation team for the trust, found it during a routine draining procedure for re-landscaping. 

"Incredibly rare" 180-million-year-old giant "sea dragon" fossil discovered in the U.K.
Ichthyosaur skeleton found at Rutland Water Nature Reserve in central England, August 26, 2021.

At first, he said in a statement, he thought the remains were clay pipes sticking out of the mud, except that “they looked organic.” He told a colleague that they looked like vertebrae, and when they got closer, they saw “what indisputably looked like a spine” as well as a jawbone at the spine’s end. 

“We couldn’t quite believe it,” Davis said. “The find has been absolutely fascinating and a real career highlight. It’s great to learn so much from the discovery and to think that this amazing creature was once swimming in seas above us.” 

The fossil was excavated in August and September and has since been identified as an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that somewhat resembled dolphins.

This particular fossil found nearly complete, is nearly 33 feet long and is roughly 180 million years old, researchers said. Its skull measures more than 6.5 feet long.

Davis told the BBC that the fossil was “very well-preserved, better than I think we could have all imagined.” 

Ichthyosaur expert Dean Lomax, who helped with the fossil’s research, said that the find is the “largest ichthyosaur skeleton ever discovered in Britain.” 

“These animals, they first appeared in a time called the Triassic period around roughly 250 million years ago,” Lomax said in a video for Rutland Water Nature Reserve. “Our specimen, the Rutland Ichthyosaur, or the Rutland Sea Dragon, is the biggest complete ichthyosaur ever found in Britain in over 200 years of collecting these things scientifically, which is an incredible feat.” 

Ichthyosaurs are not swimming dinosaurs, he clarified. 

According to the company Anglian Water, which helps maintain the reservoir in which the fossil was found, ichthyosaurs of this size and completeness are “incredibly rare,” especially in the U.K., with most comparable examples being found in Germany and North America. 

Alicia Kearns, who represents Rutland Melton in Parliament, said the discovery “surpassed every possible expectation.” 

“It is utterly awe-inspiring,” she said. 

Though the largest, this was not the first ichthyosaur fossil found in the reservoir. The Wildlife Trust said that two incomplete and “much smaller” remains were found in the ’70s when the reservoir was first being constructed. 

The palaeontologists working on the remains are continuing their research and are working on an academic paper about the findings. 

1,500-Year-Old Silver Site Uncovered in England

1,500-Year-Old Silver Site Uncovered in England

An abandoned mausoleum and silver extraction taking place on an industrial scale at a Roman site in rural Kent has left archaeologists with a 1500-year-old mystery.

Silver extraction on an industrial scale

Archaeologists working on an excavation at Grange Farm, near Gillingham, discovered 15 kilograms of litharge – a material associated with the extraction of silver from other metals. This is the largest amount ever found on a British Roman site and greatly exceeds the amount that archaeologists would normally expect to find on a rural settlement such as that at Grange Farm, suggesting that the refining of silver was taking place on an industrial scale.

However, the excavation team did not unearth any signs of the infrastructure that could have supported the size of operation required to produce this amount of material.

The excavation and subsequent research, which was led by Pre-Construct Archaeology (PCA) and involved archaeologists from Newcastle University, revealed a rectangular building that would have been built from timber and divided internally by three aisles. This type of multi-function ‘aisled’ building was fairly common in Roman Britain and would have been used both as a house and a place for crafts.

However, although the archaeologists found evidence of small-scale metalworking at one end of the building, it was not at a level that would have produced the amount of litharge discovered.

The team was confronted with another mystery when they also uncovered a stone mausoleum – a grand funerary monument usually found at Roman villas, not aisled buildings.

Dating to the late 3rd century or early 4th century AD, this was the height of a two-storey building and would have been visible from the nearby river Medway.  Inside, the mausoleum had a ‘tesselated’ floor of plain red mosaic tiles which was very unusual for mausoleums in Roman Britain, say the archaeologists.

Inside the ruins of the mausoleum, the archaeologists found a lead-lined coffin containing the body of an elderly lady. Isotopic analysis of the lady’s teeth suggests she was probably local, while radiocarbon dating suggests she was buried around the same time the mausoleum was built. Although it wasn’t unheard of for people to be buried in lead caskets in Roman Britain, it wasn’t a widespread practice. The discovery was also unusual because the team did not find any evidence that the lady had been buried with any personal items or grave goods, which was common at that time.  

1,500-Year-Old Silver Site Uncovered in England
Archaeologists unearth the lead-lined coffin. Image courtesy of Pre-Construct Archaeology (PCA).

Dr James Gerrard, Senior Lecturer in Roman Archaeology, said: “There are so many mysteries surrounding the discoveries at Grange Farm. Although we know that the economy during the late Roman empire was based on silver and gold, whose production was heavily controlled by the state, we don’t know why silver was being refined in such huge quantities at Grange Farm – which was only a small rural settlement. It may have been that the site’s proximity to the river was an important factor, or it could have been that the work was being done illegally, out of the Empire’s sight.

“Additionally, we have very few clues as to who the elderly lady was. It’s clear she was someone important with significant status in the community, because to be buried in a lead coffin in a substantial monument like the mausoleum requires resources – both in terms of money and labour.”

Anglo Saxon discoveries

By the fifth and sixth centuries, Grange Farm appears to have fallen out of use as a permanently-occupied settlement, so the team were surprised when the excavation also unearthed a number of early Anglo-Saxon items including two spear heads and ornate brooch. Spears were usually used as part of Anglo-Saxon burial practices but there was no evidence to suggest that Grange Farm was being used either as a settlement or burial site at that time.

One of the Anglo-Saxon spearheads was discovered at Grange Farm. Image courtesy of Pre-Construct Archaeology (PCA).

“The brooch is a very unusual find – stylistically it is closer to southern Scandinavia and is one of only a handful of similar brooches found in Britain,” added Dr Gerrard. “Both the spears and brooch are unusual and high-status objects on an otherwise unassuming rural site.

“The mausoleum wasn’t in use at this time, and in fact it appears that the grave of the elderly lady was disturbed in later years – possibly by early medieval graverobbers or relic hunters.”

As well as the litharge and the mysteries surrounding the mausoleum and the elderly lady in the lead-lined coffin, the team of archaeologists also found 453 Roman coins, more than 20,000 fragments of pottery and 8,000 animal bones.

Complex sequence of activity over centuries

The excavation, which took place before the start of a new housing development on the site, is the subject of a new book, ‘By the Medway Marsh’, written by Dr Gerrard, and published by PCA. It details the excavation and the history of the site, from late-Iron Age, its transition and growth under the Romans, and what happened to it during Medieval times.

“The site at Grange Farm has given us a fascinating mystery and an extensive and complex sequence of activity covering the entire Roman period right through to early Anglo-Saxon – and beyond,” added Dr Gerrard. “But that’s just one phase of the story of this place. Everything we found – and what is happening to the site now – is evidence of the economic pull of the Medway and the area’s changing development.”

Victoria Ridgeway, Director and Head of Post-Excavation, Pre-Construct Archaeology, added: “In some ways the excavations at Grange Farm typify much of the work undertaken by commercial archaeological contractors like PCA, in that the sites’ boundaries were determined by the extent of new development, in this case for housing. But, whilst we knew the area had been important during the medieval period, we were less prepared for the extraordinary range of Roman and Anglo-Saxon finds we encountered.

“This book, in common with others in a series of monographs produced by PCA, is the culmination of several years of work, involving many specialists from different fields of research. We are grateful to the support provided by James Gerrard and the department at Newcastle University. This project has provided a welcome opportunity for collaboration between the ‘academic’ and ‘commercial’ aspects of the archaeological world.”

London’s largest Roman mosaic in 50 years discovered by archaeologists

London’s largest Roman mosaic in 50 years discovered by archaeologists

In the shadow of the iconic Shard in London, archaeologists have come across an echo of the city’s ancient past. Right there in the heart of the city, they’ve unearthed a striking Roman mosaic that dates back to the late second or early third century.

London's largest Roman mosaic in 50 years discovered by archaeologists
Archaeologists work to uncover the newly-unearthed mosaic in central London.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime find in London,” raved Antonietta Lerz, the Museum of London Archeology (MOLA) site supervisor.

MOLA archaeologists uncovered the mosaic while excavating a new housing and retail development at the Liberty of Southwark site near the London Bridge. As they sifted through the dirt, something suddenly caught their attention.

“When the first flashes of colour started to emerge through the soil everyone on site was very excited,” Lerz explained.

The archaeologists eventually uncovered a Roman mosaic made of two panels that stretches for more than 26 feet. The larger panel includes lotus flowers, a “Solomon’s knot” pattern, and intertwining strands called guilloche. The smaller panel is simpler but includes some of the same designs with red and black tiles. Historians have seen similar mosaics elsewhere.

The panel is nearly 2,000 years old and includes intricate geometric patterns.

David Neal, a Roman mosaic expert, believes that the larger panel was made by the Acanthus group, who developed a unique style in London. And, intriguingly, the smaller panel bears a striking resemblance to one found in Trier, Germany. That may mean that London artisans took their craft abroad.

Both mosaics probably made up a triclinium, a sort of formal dining room where upper-class ancient Romans would have lounged on couches, chatted, and admired the beautiful floor.

The triclinium itself likely made up one part of a mansio, a type of inn for Romans officials travelling on state business where they could rest, stable their horses, and get a bite to eat. Archaeologists suspect that it was part of a bigger complex, but they’re still examining the grounds.

Indeed, the mosaics weren’t the only discoveries that the MOLA archaeologists made. They also found evidence of a large building nearby, which may have been a wealthy Roman’s private house. There, they uncovered an intricate bronze brooch, a bone hairpin, and a sewing needle.

“These finds are associated with high-status women who were following the latest fashions and the latest hairstyles,” Lerz explained, noting that they lived during the “heydey of Roman London.”

“The buildings on this site were of very high status. The people living here were living the good life.”

The smaller mosaic bears a strong resemblance to one found in Trier, Germany.

Roman London, or Londinium, was first settled in 47 C.E. It expanded rapidly throughout the first century and reached its peak during the second century. At the time, Londinium boasted a population of around 45,000 to 60,000.

The largest city in Roman Britannia, it had a forum, a basilica, bathhouses, temples, and other features found in bustling Roman hubs. The mosaics found near The Shard are a striking throwback to that time.

“The Liberty of Southwark site has a rich history, but we never expected a find on this scale or significance,” explained Henrietta Nowne, a Senior Development Manager at regeneration specialist U+I, which is working with Transport for London to develop the Liberty of Southwark site.

“We are committed to celebrating the heritage of all of our regeneration sites, so it’s brilliant that we’ve been able to unearth a beautiful and culturally-important specimen in central London that will be now preserved so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

Moving forward, Lerz and her team aim to preserve and display the stunning mosaics.

“Long term, we would hope to have these on public display and we are in consultation with Southwark Council to find an appropriate building to put them in, where they can be enjoyed by everyone,” she explained.

For now, the excavation of the Roman mosaics continues — just a three-minute walk from London’s gleaming Shard.

Roman mosaic and villa complex found in Rutland farmer’s field

Roman mosaic and villa complex found in Rutland farmer’s field

The team from the University of Leicester during the excavations of the Rutland villa’s mosaic floor.

It was a family ramble through fields during lockdown last year that led to an “oh wow moment”: the discovery of a Roman villa complex containing a rare mosaic depicting Homer’s The Iliad, now thought to be one of the most remarkable and significant finds of its kind in Britain.

Roman mosaic and villa complex found in Rutland farmer's field
The mosaic depicts scenes from Homer’s The Iliad, about the epic fight between Achilles and the Trojan hero, Hector.

The mosaic – the first example found in the UK displaying scenes from the Greek epic poem, and only one of a handful from across Europe – was found beneath a farmer’s field in Rutland.

It is now protected by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

Battles from the Trojan war were illustrated in only a handful of mosaics that have been found.

The site was discovered by Jim Irvine, son of the landowner, Brian Naylor, during the 2020 lockdown, and has been investigated by archaeologists from the University of Leicester in partnership with Historic England and Rutland county council.

Their investigation revealed the mosaic lies within an elaborate villa complex encompassing a host of other structures and buildings.

It is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual from the late Roman period, sometime between the 3rd and 4th century AD.

“A ramble through the fields with the family turned into an incredible discovery,” Irvine said. “Finding some unusual pottery among 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.”

Human remains have been found at the site.

The remains of the mosaic measure 11m by almost 7m and form the floor of what is thought to be a large dining or entertaining area.

Though mosaics were used in a variety of private and public buildings across the Roman empire and often featured famous figures from history and mythology, there are only a handful of depictions of Achilles’ battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan war.

The villa is surrounded by what appear to be aisled barns, circular structures and a possible bathhouse.

Human remains were also found in the rubble covering the mosaic, which was likely interred after the building was no longer occupied.

John Thomas, deputy director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and project manager on the excavations, called it “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,” he said. “This [the villa’s owner] 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.”

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, added that discoveries like this were “so important in helping us piece together our shared history”.

An aerial view of the archaeological site, photographed by drone.

Archaeologists stunned as ‘Britain’s most exciting’ mystery solved after 4,000 years

Archaeologists stunned as ‘Britain’s most exciting’ mystery solved after 4,000 years

In 2004, Wessex Archaeologists Ltd were called in by architects to excavate land at Cliffs End Farm prior to building a new housing development.

Suspicions were heightened after earlier investigations showed that the site had been occupied during the early and late Bronze Age, between 2,400BC and 700BC and again in the early Saxon period of 400AD to 600AD.

But what archaeologists found came to be dubbed “Britain’s most exciting historical discovery,” as numerous deposits of human remains were found alongside near-complete carcasses of animals in what was believed to be ritual burials.

Now, more than a decade later, archaeologist Tori Herridge pieced together the exact contents of these mass graves during Channel 4’s “Bone Detectives” series.

She said during Saturday’s show: “It’s hard to believe, but beneath this estate lies one of Britain’s most exciting historical discoveries. 

“Back in 2004, when these houses were still drawings on an architect’s plan and this whole area was a farmer’s field, archaeologists were called in.

“What they found was an extraordinary complex of structures, a deep oval-shaped pit and a disturbing collection of bones, human bones.

Archaeologists stunned as ‘Britain’s most exciting’ mystery solved after 4,000 years
The discovery was made in Cliffsend
A housing development now stands on top

“But who were these people and what happened to them?”

Dr Herridge went on to detail more specifics.

She added: “They were excavated, specifically this northeastern corner here in a place called the Isle of Thanet, but not an island today, I hasten to add.

“They were around here between Ramsgate and Sandwich, that’s where they were excavating.”

Dr Herridge then took viewers to look at one skeleton in specific, before asking osteoarchaeologist Jackie McKinley to explain what she had discovered.

Tori Herridge is investigating

Dr McKinley said: “This is from the Late Bronze Age, so it’s ninth to 11th century BC, 3,000 years ago.

“We have 23 individuals in total from this site, most of them were adults.

“We have rather more females than males, overall 12 females to eight males (three unidentified).

“The really interesting ones were the six in situ ones that were associated with the pit, five of which were in the base and this was one of those.”

Dr Herridge explained why this skeleton stuck out to experts the most.

Some of the remains gave an insight
One skeleton showed a skull had been stabbed several times

She added: “This is the eldest of the individuals that we had, she was the primary deposit, the first to be deposited in the base of this pit and buried there.

“She was certainly over 55 years of age, it’s quite difficult to age people when they get to that kind of age because you are going on degenerative processes.

“If you look at this one, this is the neck vertebrae and you can see the breakdown in the surface, you’ve got pitting, you’ve got little holes and new bone around the edges.

“This level of wear really shows a very old individual this has happened to.

“If you look up here you can see this incredible amount of wear to the teeth, all the enamel has worn away, so that’s telling me she was very old.”

However, the discovery also apparently proved the people had not been murdered, contrary to original theories.

Dr Herridge continued: “Usually we can’t tell what people die of, there aren’t many acute diseases that affect the bone, but in this instance, I know exactly how she died.

“For that, we just need to look at the skull, she’s been killed quite violently with a sword.”

But even stranger, strontium and oxygen isotope analyses revealed evidence for a mixture of people from the Western Mediterranean, Scandinavia and locals from Kent in the assemblage. 

These long distances are made all the more remarkable as they were undertaken when some of the individuals were between the ages of three and 12.

The discovery suggests that Cliffsend was hugely important in Bronze Age Britain and held a very high spiritual importance to maintaining a strong civilisation.