Archaeology breakthrough: Mosaic discovery ‘rewrites Roman Empire’s legacy in Britain’

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In December, experts made the incredible discovery inside the Chedworth Roman Villa. Roman mosaics expert Stephen Cosh was left “reeling from shock” after radiocarbon dating revealed a mosaic was designed and created in what was thought to be the “Dark Ages”. It showed sophisticated life continued within the mansion long after Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire.

First discovered in 1864, the Chedworth Roman Villa dates to the second century and it was previously believed the mosaic dated to no later than the fourth century.

But analysis of animal bones and charcoal found in a trench of the mosaic room dated its creation to after 424AD – after the Roman rule of Britain was over.

Previously, it was thought that all Roman towns and villas were abandoned and fell into decay at the end of the fourth century.

But National Geographic revealed in a special two-page spread of this month’s magazine how the discovery is now being tipped to “rewrite Rome’s legacy in Britain”.

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth said: “The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth and a mosaic industry that continued at least another 500 years longer than expected.”

He added that the builders “could have been dignitaries, people with money, influence, and friends in high places”.

According to the history books, Britons abandoned their Roman villas and turned to subsistence farming to survive when the Roman imperial administrative system ended.

Mr Papworth speculated that Chedworth’s location in the Cotsworths shielded it from social turmoil, including raids from Celtic, Pictish and Scottish tribes.

He believes that this allowed the area to maintain a higher standard of living years after the region had been abandoned.

Mr Cosh said the discovery was the first step in a wider investigation that can now commence.

He added: “It will be important to research further sites in the region to see whether we can demonstrate similar refurbishment at other villas still occupied in the fifth century.”

Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest in the country and one of the best-preserved, with 35 exposed rooms and significant features including fine mosaics.

Archaeological work began in 2012 and was part of a six-year programme of digs and research which is shedding new light on the history of Romans in South West Britain.

Mr Papworth added: “The fifth century is a time which marks the beginning of the sub-Roman period, often called the ‘Dark Ages,’ a time from which few documents survive, and archaeological evidence is scarce.

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“After almost 400 years, Britain had been lost by Rome, units of the regular army and members of the civil service were either being withdrawn or no longer paid in cash and their wages in the form of coinage ceased to be brought into Britain by the central government.

“This saw production decline, and the craft and service industries became unsustainable.

“It has generally been believed that most of the population turned to subsistence farming to sustain themselves and, after the break with Rome, Britannia’s administrative system broke down into a series of local fiefdoms.

“What is so exciting about the dating of this mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline.”

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