Archaeologists discover 'remarkable' Roman villa complex at UK housing development site

Remarkable Roman villa complex discovered in Oxfordshire
Remarkable Roman villa complex discovered in Oxfordshire Copyright Credit: Red River Archaeology Group
By Theo Farrant
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Discoveries within the Roman villa complex include small votive axes, 'Samian' style red-slip pottery, numerous coins, and a puzzling collection of tightly-coiled lead scrolls.

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Archaeologists in the UK have uncovered a "remarkable" Roman villa complex at a housing development site in Grove, a village in Oxfordshire.

The discovery, found within a landscape with roots stretching back to the Bronze Age, features a villa complex complete with intricate painted plaster, mosaic decorations and a treasure trove of unique Roman-era artefacts. 

Led by the Red River Archaeology Group working on behalf of Barratt and David Wilson Homes, a monumental hall-like "aisled building" measuring approximately 500 square metres has been uncovered, one of the larger examples of its kind in Britain.

Provisional site plan on drone image
Provisional site plan on drone imageCredit: Red River Archaeology Group & © SUMO GeoSurveys.

Situated adjacent to this structure is a 'winged-corridor' villa, "a high-status domestic structure with a central range and flanking wings of rooms accessed by a central corridor," says Red River Archaeology Group. 

“The sheer size of the buildings that still survive and the richness of goods recovered suggest this was a dominant feature in the locality, if not the wider landscape," remarks Louis Stafford, senior project manager at Red River Archaeology Group. 

Roman coins
Roman coinsCredit: Red River Archaeology Group
Horsehead brooch 1
Horsehead brooch 1Credit: Red River Archaeology Group

What artefacts were found within the complex?

The unearthed artefacts encompass an impressive array of items, including intricately painted plaster, mosaic tiles, hypocaust box flue tiles, small votive axes, 'Samian' style red-slip pottery, numerous coins, rings, and brooches, as well as a horse-headed belt buckle dating back to AD 350-450.

Particularly intriguing is the mysterious collection of tightly-coiled lead scrolls. While currently blank when unraveled, the scrolls evoke memories of Roman 'curse tablets.'

Coupled with the presence of miniature votive axes, the scrolls "suggests a ritual/pilgrimage focus somewhere on the estate," according to the Red River Archaeology Group. 

Lead scrolls
Lead scrollsCredit: Red River Archaeology Group
Animals Samian pottery
Animals Samian potteryCredit: Red River Archaeology Group
Wide shot of a cereal drying oven found at the excavation site in Oxford
Wide shot of a cereal drying oven found at the excavation site in OxfordCredit: Red River Archaeology Group

As per a statement from Red Rock Archaeology Group, the team intends to collaborate with Barratt and David Wilson Homes to ensure that construction activities at the historic site progress while safeguarding its heritage.

“It’s remarkable to think that we are simply the latest in a line of people who have established a community on this site, dating back such a long way,” remarks Campbell Gregg, managing director of the housing site.

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