Category Archives: ENGLAND

Massive Roman Villa Found in British Backyard

Massive Roman Villa Found in British Backyard

This began out as a bit of basic home improvement, which ended up with the finding of one of the biggest Roman Villas ever to be found in the UK. While laying an electricity cable beneath the grounds of his home, near the village of Tisbury, in Wiltshire, Luke Irwin found the remains of what appeared to be an ornate Roman Mosaic.

Yet it was even more shocking that there was an excavation by archeologists from Historic Great Britain and the Salisbury Museum. They found the mosaic was part of the floor of a much larger Roman property, similar in size and structure to the great Roman villa at Chedworth.

But in a move that will surprise many, the remains – some of the most important to be found in decades – have now been re-buried, as Historic England cannot afford to fully excavate and preserve such an extensive site.

Dr David Roberts, the archaeologist for Historic England, said:  “This site has not been touched since its collapse 1400 years ago and, as such, is of enormous importance. Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential.

“The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well-preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1500 years, is unparalleled in recent years. Overall, the excellent preservation, large scale and complexity of this site present a unique opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

Excavations at the site revealed a large Roman property, similar in size and structure to Chedworth

He added: “Unfortunately, it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fully excavate and the preserve the site, which cannot be done with the current pressures.

“We would very much like to go back and carry out more digs to further our understanding of the site. But it’s a question of raising the money and taking our time, because as with all archaeological work there is the risk of destroying the very thing you seek to uncover.” 

Mr Irwin, a Dublin-born designer who makes hand-made silk, wool and cashmere rugs, made the fortunate find last summer while laying electricity cables beneath a stretch of ground to the rear of his property, so that his children could play table tennis under lighting in an old barn.

An artist’s impression of how the site would have looked

His builders had barely begun to dig a trench for the cables when they hit something solid, just 18 inches below the surface. On closer inspection it appeared to be a section of a Roman mosaic in remarkably good condition. Intrigued, Mr Irwin called in experts from the Wiltshire Archaeology Service, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and nearby Salisbury Museum. 

Further exploratory excavation of the site – now known as the Deverill Villa after the name of Mr Irwin’s 17th-century house – revealed surviving sections of walls, one and a half metres in height, confirming that the mosaic formed part of a grand villa, thought to have been three storeys in height, its grounds extending over 100 metres in width and length.

It is thought the villa, which had around 20 to 25 rooms on the ground floor alone, was built sometime between 175 AD and 220 AD, and was repeatedly re-modelled right up until the mid – 4th century. The remains at Deverill are similar to those found at Chedworth, in Gloucestershire, suggesting that the building belonged to a family of significant wealth and importance. 

A Roman coin found at the site

Chedworth was built as a dwelling around three sides of a courtyard, with a fine mosaic floor, as well as two separate bathing suites – one for damp-heat and one for dry-heat. The villa was discovered in 1864, and it was excavated and put on display soon afterwards. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1924.

The discovery at Mr Irwin’s home also revealed a number of fascinating objects from the Roman period. Among the artefacts discovered during the excavations were a perfectly preserved Roman well, underfloor heating pipes and the stone coffin of a Roman child. Another was the stone coffin of a Roman child, which had long been used by the inhabitants of the adjoining house as a flower pot, most recently for geraniums.

Also found were discarded oyster shells, which would have had to be transported over 45 miles from the coast– further evidence of the villa would have been the home of a wealthy and important family. Archaeologists believe that during the post-Roman period timber structures were erected within the ruins of the once-ornate villa.

One of the discarded oyster shells

They say further research of what was found at Deverill would  throw light on what remains one of the least understood periods of British history – between fall of the Roman Empire and the completion of Saxon domination in the 7th century.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, one of Britain’s leading historians said: “This remarkable Roman villa, with its baths and mosaics uncovered by chance, is a large, important and very exciting discovery that reveals so much about the luxurious lifestyle of a rich Romano British family at the height of the empire.

“It is an amazing thought that so much has survived almost two millennia.”  Mr Irwin was inspired by his discovery to create a series of rugs based around the theme of the Roman mosaic he unearthed. His collection will be put on display at his showroom in central London.

A child’s coffin found at the site

He said: “When I held some of the tessaras, the mosaic tiles that were found, in the palm of my hand, the history of the place felt tangible, like an electric shock. The brilliance of their colours was just extraordinary, especially as they have been buried for so long.

“To think that someone lived on this site 1,500 years ago is almost overwhelming. You look out at an empty field from your front door, and yet centuries ago one of the biggest homes in all of Britain at the time was standing there.”

But while the artefacts have been removed and are now in the care of Salisbury Museum, the remains of the villa and its mosaics have been re-buried and grassed over to protect them from the elements. To expose and preserve the mosaics and fragments of walls would be prohibitively expensive and beyond the budget of Salisbury Museum. Even if it was financially possible, Mr Irwin does not want his garden turned into an open-air museum.

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain

Experts who researched an iron-age skull brain of 2,600 years of old have found evidence to explain why it survived until modern times in a mud pit. The answers could shed light on the treatment of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Secrets of an astonishingly well-preserved 2,600-year-old human brain
A sample of the Heslington brain.

The brain, that came from a UK man who died more than 2,000 years ago, survived all those years without decomposition, has been found by a team of international researchers.

This research, which was published in the Royal Society Interface Journal, reveals how the scientists examined brain tissue for months and concentrated on protein in the tissue to help them understand deeper the functioning of the brain.

The brain was discovered first in a hidden inside mud pit in Heslington, Yorkshire, England in 2008. The brain was known as the Heslington brain.

Many scientists claim that the brain is the oldest one ever found in Eurasia, being dubbed as the best-preserved brain worldwide. The brain dates to about 482 to 673 BC, which was the start of the Iron Age.

The analysis of the brain tissue showed that it was from a male who was likely decapitated. The brain tissue had withstood many factors but had managed to survive for thousands of years. Now, scientists have unlocked one of the mysteries surrounding the brain tissue.

The researchers have carried out the first-ever detailed analysis of the brain tissue using powerful microscopes. The team scanned the brain with a focused beam of electrons.

The brain was studied at a molecular level, focusing on the presence of proteins that are harder than any other material found in the brain.

The skull with preserved brain material inside.

They found more than 800 proteins in the tissue sample. Some were in good condition, and they were able to study and work up an immune response to them. Further, they found that the proteins had folded themselves into tight-packed stable aggregates that were more stable than those found in the normal and healthy brain today.

The skull within which the brain was found.

The formation of the aggregate explains how the brain was able to evade decomposition and got preserved for thousands of years.

They also pinpointed that the environment where the skull was discovered had helped in the preservation. The fine-grain sediment was cold and wet, which may have warded off oxygen that the flesh-eating microorganism need to survive.

The study findings can help scientists today study brains diseases, such as dementia, that are related to protein folding and aggregate formation.

Diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease involve the development of rogue proteins dubbed as amyloid and tau. These proteins work by killing brain cells when they clump together.

In the case of the preserved brain, it was the process of aggregate formation that allowed the brain to survive across more than 2,000 years.

The discovery of the tight-packed aggregates provided new proof for the long-lasting stability of non-amyloid protein aggregates, which permit the preservation of brain proteins.

The brain tissue offers a unique chance to use molecular tools to examine how to preserve human brain proteins. Eventually, this could help scientists to find a way to battle dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia affects around 50 million people worldwide, with 10 million new cases each year. By 2030, the projected number of people with dementia is 82 million and 152 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that gradually damages memory and cognitive skills. In the long run, patients with the condition may have problems with simple tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and in the United States, it is the 6th leading cause of death.

Remains of 50 skeletons from the dawn of Britain’s Roman occupation 2,000 years ago unearthed by construction workers building a new school in Somerset

Remains of 50 skeletons from the dawn of Britain’s Roman occupation 2,000 years ago unearthed by construction workers building a new school in Somerset

Building workers in the UK have unearthed a large  Roman-era cemetery. The burials are of an unusual type, showing spectacular changes in the funerary customs of locals in the 1st century AD.

This cemetery helps historians to understand better understand a key period in British history, namely the transition from a Celtic to Roman culture and society

When they worked on a new building that would replace the old one, the workers unearthed the Roman cemetery. It was found near Somerton, Somerset in Southern England. The relevant authorities were notified as required by law and work on the new building was paused.

One of the skeletons alongside a pot found at the Roman burial site.

The South West Heritage Trust then began to investigate the site and what they found was astonishing. Archaeologists conducted the most comprehensive excavation of a Roman burial site ever in the region. During the dig, they used drones and other innovative technology.

Steve Membery, of the Heritage Trust, told BBC that “this site is a significant discovery.” Just over fifty burials were found, and they are dated to the 1 st century AD.

This is the time when Rome conquered the Celtic tribes that had previously inhabited the area. It was an era of profound political, social and cultural changes.

One of the skeletons in the stone coffin structure with a pot (at bottom of the shot) unearthed at the Roman burial site.

The nature of the graves was something that astonished the archaeologists. Most of the graves  “were dug into the bedrock and lined with stone curbs to create a coffin structure,” reports the BBC. These slabs were also used in the construction of roofs in the early Roman period. 

The BBC reports that “in one particularly unusual grave, slabs were used to create a tent-like structure above the person who was buried.” This is similar to other burials in Western Europe, but it’s rare in England and this custom was possibly brought to the area by Romans.

The nature of the graves indicates that the early influence of Roman funerary customs. In the older graves, from before the invasion, the dead were simply compressed into a burial place.

After the conquest, the graves were built with more care and the bodies laid flat. Findings from the grave of one woman suggest that her head was propped on a pillow when she was buried.

Interestingly, small nails were found in the later graves, which seems to show that people were buried wearing hob-nailed boots. Membery told The Guardian that “the individuals were evidently of some status.” Additionally, some grave goods were found, including brooches, coins, and pottery.

One of the brooches found at the Roman burial site in Somerset.

One intact pot was found to have the remains of a chicken, who was possibly sacrificed during a burial ceremony. These finds show the influence of Rome on the local population, and how quickly it adopted the customs of the invaders.

The miraculously preserved pot uncovered at the Roman burial site.

DNA testing is being conducted on the bodies to determine their origin. It is believed that they are the remains of Romano-Britons. They had probably been Romanized and had adopted many of the beliefs and practices of the new ruling class.  They possibly came from a nearby villa. It should be noted that the outbuildings of this villa have been found but not the actual building.

However, archaeologists are reluctant to positively state the remains belong to Celts who had adopted the culture of Rome.

Recently some Roman-era graves were found that hold the remains of those with Asian ancestry. Membery is quoted by The BBC as saying that this “find means archaeologists in Somerset are hesitant to make assumptions about the possible origins of people whose remains are unearthed.”

Coins found at the Roman burial site dating back to Roman Emperor Vespasian.

The find is changing the history of the area. Local public representative Cllr Faye Purbrick, stated: “The findings are both exciting and extraordinary, providing us with valuable insight into Somerset’s early history.” Moreover, they are showing how quickly and profoundly the Romans changed the local people and their beliefs.

Based on the changing burial customs, the Romanization of the ancient Celtic people occurred very quickly. Further investigations are underway in Somerton and a summary of the findings will be published in an academic journal in the future.

Archaeology shock: Ancient Roman and Anglo-Saxon artifacts found near UK airport

Archaeology shock: Ancient Roman and Anglo-Saxon artefacts found near UK airport

“Breathtaking” Roman and Anglo-Saxon artefacts have been discovered in burial sites near the edge of an airport.

A Gaulish flagon used to pour wine has been preserved

Pots, jugs and jewellery were found in Baginton, next to Lunt Roman Fort and Coventry Airport in Warwickshire.

Archaeologists believe two of the graves contained a “high status” ranking officer and Roman girl, aged between six and 12. The artefacts could go on display at local museums.

The pieces were found during a dig at a housing development site in summer 2017 but many of the items have only just been officially dated and verified by experts.

Senior archaeologist Nigel Page, from Warwickshire County Council which led the dig, said it was a “remarkable” find.

“It’s a significant discovery in the West Midlands,” he said. “There was a real buzz of excitement when the site was found. It’s breathtaking.”

A number of pots were found at one burial site

A decorative brooch was found within a Roman cremation burial site of a young girl. It was one of four brooches from a small pile of jewellery placed in the grave and covered by a polished mirror.

Other jewellery included a ring, with an image of a cicada – an insect associated with immortality – and a hairpin. Experts said the items and imagery on some of the jewellery suggested a link to southern Europe.

This Roman brooch is likely to have belonged to a young girl and put with her for a cremation burial

A dozen Anglo-Saxon graves were excavated, some of which contained goods including a Frankish vessel from the northern France and Belgium area.

“The presence of the Frankish vessel suggests that, just as during the Roman period, goods and people were moving into and through the area from a wide area, including from Europe,” Mr Page said.

One burial contained the centre of a shield, fragments of a knife blade in its leather sheath and a crushed copper alloy hanging bowl. Experts said the richness of the Anglo-Saxon grave suggested a person of reasonably high status, such as a high ranking officer.

“The settlement at Baginton continued to flourish after the Romans left in the early 5th Century,” added Mr Page.

Ancient anti-witchcraft potion found at old Northamptonshire pub

Ancient anti-witchcraft potion found at old Northamptonshire pub

Throughout Western Europe, about 200,000 witches were murdered, burned, or hanged, between 1484 and 1750 according to historians, while between 1644 and 1646, around 300 so-called witches were killed.

In the 1560s, the practice of witchcraft was a major offense. Many witches in Britain were often old women and were part of poor families.

A Victorian bottle that is supposed to be used to prevent evil spells has recently been found. As per the experts in Watford, Northamptonshire, the bottle has been found at the birthplace of the witch.

History of the Lancashire Witches is in the John Rylands Library in Manchester Wikimedia Commons

Angeline Tubbs, a famous witch, who is still a popular name, was born at the former Star and Garter Inn at Watford village in 1761.

Known as the Witch of Saratoga she is one of the major subjects of ghost tours at Saratoga Springs in New York, where she moved at the age of 15 and used to foretell the future.

But the 19th-century weird bottle was found during roof repairs of her house in Northamptonshire.

The bottle contains fish hooks, human teeth, glass, a liquid and suddenly appeared after several years when a chimney was demolished at the building.

The suspected witch bottle

As reported by BBC, Dr. Ceri Houlbrook, lecturer in folklore and history at the University of Hertfordshire said, “It’s certainly later than most witch bottles, so sadly not contemporary with Angeline Tubbs, but still a fascinating find.”

The researchers who studied the bottle at the Museum of London Archaeology mentioned that such vessels were believed to have been used as a protection method hundreds of years ago.

As per the experts, earlier these glass or stone vessels were found under the floors of historic buildings, mostly in the churchyards and riverbanks.

It should be mentioned that most of these vessels had contained weird things, such as human nails and pins as well as human urine