A year ago, an English rug designer named Luke Irwin asked builders to install electric cables in his barn in Wiltshire. He didn’t know they would unearth the archaeological find of a lifetime.
The workers were digging a trench when they stumbled on a brilliantly colored mosaic floor. Irwin took a photo, and sent it to experts for more information. Subsequent excavations revealed that the grounds are home to what Irwin told the BBC was an "extraordinarily well-preserved” Roman villa dating back to between 175 and 220 CE.
The villa is one of the largest ever found in England, and it hasn’t been been touched since its collapse 1400 years ago. These factors make it of “enormous importance” to historians, David Roberts, an archaeologist with Historic England, told the BBC.
Experts think the villa was three stories high, and that its front courtyard once took up the entire field adjacent to Irwin’s country home. Among the ruins, they found a well, chunks of masonry and pottery, brooches, coins, animal bones, and shells of oysters, which were artificially cultivated and carried from the coast in vessels of salt water. A stone trough that Irwin’s family had used to plant geraniums was revealed to be a Roman child’s coffin.
Archaeologists have compared the elaborate structure to Chedworth, another significant Roman villa discovered in England in 1864. Like Chedworth's inhabitants, the owners of this particular villa were clearly wealthy and of high social standing. Experts speculate that the home could have once been the private property of a Roman emperor. Around the time the villa was built, ruling emperors included Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE); Commodus (175-192 CE), and Elagabalus (218-222 CE), the International Business Times UK reports.
"We've found a whole range of artifacts demonstrating just how luxurious a life that was led by the elite family that would have lived at the villa,” Roberts, who worked on the excavations, told the BBC.
Historic England, an English government organization tasked with preserving the country's history, willcontinue to work with Irwin, the local Salisbury Museum, and Wiltshire Archaeological Service to excavate and understand the site. In the meantime, Irwin, who had wanted to transform the barn into a game room for his son, is still in awe from the find.
“I have always been fascinated by history ever since I went to Pompeii as a child,” Irwin told The Independent. "But to find it 20 yards from your own front door ... It's mind blowing."
Watch a short documentary about the find, produced by Irwin, above.
All images courtesy of YouTube.