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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 15:58 GMT
Workmen unearth Roman patio
Archaeologist and mosaic
Mosaics of this quality are "few and far between"
An ancient mosaic, unearthed accidentally by workmen in Somerset, is being hailed as one of the most important Roman finds of the last 50 years.

The 10 by six metre section was discovered when the workmen started digging for a new road at an office near Ilminster.

English Heritage said the find was unexpected as there were no other indications of Roman remains in the field, at Mill House, near the village of Lopen.

The site was one of considerable status, a substantial villa

Dr David Neal, Mosaic expert
However the find will have to be buried again to protect it over the winter while archaeologists consider the best way to preserve it.

The 1,640-year-old mosaic, which came to light in October, is made of tiny red, white and blue blocks of Somerset limestone and tiles.

Unusually, it depicts a dolphin rather than geometric designs normally seen on Roman mosaics.

English Heritage's Chief Archaeologist David Miles said: "Discoveries of this type are few and far between.

"When they do turn up it is crucial that bodies such as English Heritage are able to help record and preserve such sites for future generations."

The mosaic features an unusual dolphin motif
The mosaic is thought to form a floor in a large villa built a mile from the Roman road, the Fosse Way - now the A303.

The road stretched from Lincoln to Exeter and was one of the major routes of Roman Britain.

Rare fragments of painted wall plaster, tiles from a central heating system and stone roof slates have also been uncovered along the route.

Dr David Neal, a leading mosaic expert who has dated the find to about AD 360 said: "The site was clearly one of considerable status, likely to be a substantial villa."

The 4th Century was the golden age for villas, especially in the prosperous West Country.

A mosaic floor was one of the best ways of showing off wealth and status.

About 400 have been discovered in Britain and half of these are in the South West.

See also:

29 Aug 01 | Education
Digging the past
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