Image: Newcastle University

The first project to excavate at Lufton Roman villa since the 1960s has revealed new details of the Somerset site’s famous octagonal fish mosaic.

Surrounding a deep pool that has been variously interpreted as an ostentatious bath, a Christian baptistery, or part of an impressive suite of reception rooms, the elaborate 4th-century floor was first excavated by Leonard Hayward in the late 1940s. Then it was thought that the mosaic depicted 29 fish. Excavation by Newcastle University students and the South Somerset Archaeological Research Group, led by Dr James Gerrard and Andrew Agate (both of Newcastle University), has shed surprising new light on its design, however.

While investigating a portion of the floor that had been damaged in antiquity, the team discovered that not only had the details of one of the fish been recorded incorrectly (it is shown with a turned head, something not described in Hayward’s notes), but that there were originally more fish than previously suspected – the very tip of the nose of a 30th fish can just be seen.

‘A two-week excavation is a short period of time, but the team has worked really hard and revealed fascinating new evidence about one of Roman Britain’s famous 4th-century villas,’ said James. ‘This just goes to show that even well-known sites still have secrets to give up.’

The project also exposed one of the substantial buttresses that was added to the octagonal bath area as well as large quantities of building material from the villa complex. These discoveries build on last year’s work (the first phase of the investigation), which revealed new details about the villa’s structure and that its inhabitants were eating shellfish despite Lufton’s distance from the sea, and using pottery from Poole Harbour, Oxfordshire, and the New Forest.

For more information, see the project blog at https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/luftonarchaeology/

This article was published in CA 331.

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