Stephen Macaulay: A Roman Villa in Somerset

As professional archaeologists we can find ourselves working on any and all types of sites, indeed some will not even have any archaeology at all, as we discover much to the delight of developer! More often than not we’ll be working on a site that has some archaeology, it’s often interesting and exciting but it’s not say ‘a Roman Villa’… there are however those occasional times when that is exactly what we are excavating… So right now we are digging a Roman Villa in Somerset.

Two archaeologists on kneelers use their trowels to reveal a mosaic at a Roman villa

Uncovering a mosaic at a Roman villa in Somerset

The summer of 2016 has seen Oxford Archaeology given the opportunity to investigate a rather nice Roman Villa in Somerset and you can see the team reveal a mosaic, probably for the dining room of the house. We have many more weeks to discover more about this site and will be returning for further work in the future… All very exciting and rather fantastic!

An archaeologist gives the thumbs up in a trench

Thumbs up from Toby

Stephen Macaulay is a Senior Project Manager at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our fieldwork services, visit our website:

Bits and Pieces

A day of many colours, it started with dark grey clouds and a blue green sea with white-topped waves, as I headed to a finds drop! I had to hand over a box of finds to a National Trust colleague,  from a dig we did on Brownsea Island so they can create a display for Festival of the British Archaeology event at the end of July. A drive through the glistening rain to the Warminster office, past lush green trees and between kamikaze birds jumping out of bushes! First another finds drop, this time a feely bag activity for another NT  colleague to use in Gloucestershire for FofBA. Then up the stairs past magnolia walls to my desk, first sort out more activities stuff for yet another FofBA event, this time  at Corfe Castle, spinning and weaving kit, colouring sheets, a notice to say we are closed for lunch (so my volunteers can get a break) and some pictures of mosaics. One thing I really wanted to get done was a photomontage in memory of ‘Gerry the Rope’, who passed away recently and we  will miss him so much at our event. He was a historical interpreter who had been coming to Corfe Castle for about twenty years doing rope making (both Medieval and Victorian), games, pole lathe demonstrations and candle making. He was a great communicator and friend.

As late afternoon approached I had to turn my mind to getting everyting ready for our excavations that start on Monday!  write and print risk assessment, get day volunteer form printed, and  go to the shed to sort the tools.  We are digging up the last of the mosaics at Chedworth Roman Villa; they had been re-covered by the Victorians. It’s the last part of a big Heritage Lottery Fund project to put a new cover building over the mosaics and the reinterpretation of the site. Three weeks of mosaic digging, Yay! Red, purple, green, yellow, blue ‘gorilla’ buckets, soft bruhses, hand shovels and a pick axe!  The last item is for prising up the tarmac path. Note to self ‘bring foot pump to blow up flat wheelbarrow tyre’

Nearly the end of the day,  just a couple of things to do before the weekend. One is to send a flint report, web link and finds drawing to an artist, Simon Ryder, who is making an art work for the ExLab project, part of he Cultural Olympiad down in Weymouth. He is getting a 3D scan and printed model of a Mesolithic Portland Chert microlith which we excavated from a site on the cliff edge near Eype in West Dorset, an exciting project. The final job was to check a newsletter article about a pottery grenade found at Corfe Castle and finally identifed 25 years after it was dug up!  Thanks to the Wessex Archaelogy  finds specialist for posting the pot on the Medieval Pottery Research Group facebook site, the wonders of social media.

So into my Red Berlingo and southwards to Weymouth, with the wheelbarrow rattling in the back.




Archaeology & Photographs

When a site is being investigated for an archaeological study one very important resource can be old photographs.

Photographs record an instant in time which can be invaluable at a later date for identification purposes particularly if the scene photographed has changed greatly over time. Fields may have been ploughed over, buildings demolished or altered or the people depicted have long gone.

As cameras became cheaper and readily available more and more people start to take photographs of their relations, friends, homes, towns, excursions and travels abroad. In addition, they also record scenes of particular interest to them and this often includes archaeological remains. This includes the roman mosaic shown below when newly discovered in Box, Wiltshire.

Identification, however, can be problematic particularly if the scene has changed greatly over time and is not identified either on the photograph itself or on documentation to accompany it. This can also make dating difficult as can not knowing who the photographer was. Despite this, however, they are an invaluable resource.

Some examples of photographs which could be of archaeological interest include some from a collection of glass magic lantern slides ranging from 1890 to around 1914.

One of these is of the Box mosaic previously referred to, found in 1898 and now reburied to preserve it from frost damage. Others in this collection where the location is recorded  could also be of use to archaeologists. These include a cottage in  Schull,Ireland, a windmill near Rhyll,Walesand a replica  medieval cross inBristol. The original was moved toStourhead in Wiltshire, while parts of the replica were moved toBerkeley Square

Box Mosaic 1989.176.8.69

Cottage, Schull 1989.176.8.5

Rhyll Windmill 1989.176.8.17


Others in the collection are not identified so any help with possible locations would be appreciated.

These include:

1989.176.8.36 The name of the shop owner is clear but where was the photograph taken?

1989.176.8.37  This was probably taken near Warleigh but does anyone know who the people in the photograph are ?

1989.176.8.12. Finally, this stone tower building may possibly be inCornwall, any ideas?

Penny, collections volunteer


Reporting on the discovery of a 2,000-year-old mosaic in Rome

The Greek god Apollo. Photo courtesy: Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali di Roma

I’ve spent most of today reporting on the discovery of a stunning mosaic beneath the Trajan baths on the southern slopes of Oppian Hill in Rome.
The wall mosaic, which extends for more than 32 feet, dates to the second half of the first century A.D. It shows the Greek god Apollo with a Muse and philosophers.
Since 1998, the so-called Tunnel of Wonders has revealed a unique fresco known as the “Painted City” and several stunning mosaics.
The archaeologists believe that the entire area was a Musaeum, a place which in antiquity was dedicated to the goddesses who inspire the creation of the arts. Here, by a nymphaeum, wealthy Romans gathered to discuss art, culture and music.
Here’s my Discovery News slideshow on this unique finding.

Archaeology on the Puccini Lake

Sun is shining in Massaciuccoli, Tuscany! We’re diggin’ this interesting Roman building, it’s 5 professionals, plus many students from Pisa, Florence, Cardiff & Aberdeen Universities!

The excavations in Massaciuccoli started long ago with the digging up of the thermal bath covered by beautiful I century A.D. mosaics in 1934. Today the Team of professionals and students is immersed in the excavation of the rest of the building, just across the road. This more recent excavation started in 2006 and it will finish in the next year, 2012.

Because of the display of the building and its surronding, initial therories categorised it as a Roman Villa, but due to new finds such as a pottery stamp with the image of two gladiators and pieces of a furnace, new theories have arose. One of them  is the possible use of the building for pottery production, and the area 4000 may have been a market place open to the public. In the area next to area 4000, there was also found a holy room containing an altarpiece and in front of it a base for a statue. In this room the walls are covered by a mix of mashed bricks, clay and a kind of mortar that draws them together.

It is an interesting site which offers new challenges and experiences everyday. Young archaeologists and students from around the world are invited to join our excavation!

Click here for a brief video about these last months of excavation (Febr-June 2011), and here for a video and interview (the latter in Italian), or follow us on Facebook!