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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 12:23 GMT
Remains of Roman villa discovered
The remains of the villa
The villa is hidden deep in an ancient woodland
The discovery of the remains of a Roman villa in Cambridgeshire has left archaeologists "blown away".

The villa, hidden deep in more than a square mile of ancient woodland at Bedford Purlieus, near Peterborough, had gone unnoticed over the centuries.

Experts believe the remains at the site, just off the A47 at Wansford, probably date back to between the second and fourth centuries AD.

It was identified almost 200 years ago by local explorer Edmund Artiss.

Detailed maps

Ben Robinson, archaeologist for Peterborough City Council, said: "It's sort of keyhole surgery - just using probes and the naked eye to map out what's where.

"It's a very difficult site, because it's dense woodland, and none of the techniques we've developed in the past 20 years - radar and airborne surveillance - are any good.

"But, paradoxically, that's why so much of the building is still there - no-one could see it."

Painted plasterwork, pottery, and local limestone joined with mortar have been found.

"The ground has never been cultivated, so the remains can still be seen as lumps and bumps rather than just outlines," said Mr Robinson.

Local explorer and historian Mr Artiss left detailed maps and drawing of the site in The Durobrivae of Antoninus, published in 1828, but no further exploration was undertaken.

"Part of the problem was we didn't know if it was still there, because of all the undergrowth," explained Mr Robinson.

"And it could have been a creation of fantasy and artistic licence - we just weren't sure."

Protected woodland

Talks are now underway as to how future archaeological work will be undertaken.

"The woodland is protected, so we can't go in with big machinery and clear the site," Mr Robinson said.

"We also have to balance our thirst for more knowledge with the desire to preserve our sites like this for future generations.

"The quality and variety of what we've found so far suggests this was part of a wealthy town, combining manufacturing and cultural development - a sort of cross between Cambridge and Stoke-on-Trent.

"We're blown away by what's been uncovered so far," added Mr Robinson.

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