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Amateur Archaeologists Uncover Most Important Roman Site in Half Century



(p. A6) BOXFORD, England -- Their ages range from 9 to about 80. They include a butcher and a builder. Some devoted vacation days to laboring on their hands and knees in an open field.

The group of amateur archaeologists -- 55 in all, though only two dozen toiled on a typical day -- were part of an excavation project near the village of Boxford, in southern England. They had to contend not just with days of backbreaking work, but also with a daunting, two-week deadline to complete the challenging dig.

Their commitment was handsomely repaid, though, in a few magical moments one Saturday last month. As a layer of soil was carefully scooped away, small, muddy pieces of red-colored tiling glinted in the sunlight, probably for the first time in more than one and a half millenniums.

The mosaic that slowly emerged from the earth is part of a Roman villa, thought to date from 380 A.D., toward the end of the period of Roman domination of England. The find is being described as the most important of its type in Britain in more than half a century, and in this picturesque, riverside village of thatched cottages, the scale of the discovery is still sinking in.


. . .


"It was down to the volunteers, it really was. I get quite emotional about it; it was something to see their drive," added Mr. Nichol, project officer for Cotswold Archaeology, a company whose normal work includes helping real estate developers preserve archaeological finds.


. . .


So for the organizers, it was a relief, rather than a disappointment, when the earth was pushed back to conceal their discovery.

The night before that was done, Mr. Nichol decided to keep watch over the site from his S.U.V. with a supply of food, a sleeping bag and a bottle of red wine, all donated by volunteers.

The Roman owner of the villa would have invited guests to eat and drink on this spot, using the mosaic as a talking point, so a mildly bacchanalian vigil did not seem out of place.

"I was on my own in the field; it was incredible," Mr. Nichol said. He described how, in the solitude, he felt drawn back across the centuries to experience a unique connection to the more-than-1,600-year-old archaeological site, and to the mythological images of its extraordinary, colorful mosaic.

"The wine did help," he added.



For the full story, see:

STEPHEN CASTLE. "BOXFORD JOURNAL; A Link to Roman Era Is Unearthed in the English Countryside." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 19, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 18, 2017, and has the title "BOXFORD JOURNAL; Amateur U.K. Archaeologists Stumble on a Roman Masterpiece.")






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