Archaeologists have unearthed a large Roman mosaic depicting scenes from Homer’s “The Iliad,” the first discovery of its kind in the United Kingdom.
According to a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, the initial discovery was made last year by Jim Irvine, the son of a landowner in the English county of Rutland.
Irvine made the “extraordinary discovery” in his family’s wheat field, about 100 miles north of London.
After finding “some unusual pottery amongst the wheat,” he began investigating on his own, a process that began during the pandemic lockdown and “filled most of my spare time over the last year.”
Irvine said that when he looked at satellite imagery, he “spotted a very clear crop mark, as if someone had drawn on my computer screen with a piece of chalk! This really was the ‘oh wow’ moment, and the beginning of the story,” he said.
He then contacted local authorities and Historic England, a public body that works to protect England’s historic environment, secured funding for “urgent archaeological investigations” on the site.
A team of experts continued to explore the site, ultimately retrieving the remains of the mosaic, which measures 36 feet by 30 feet, and depicts part of the story of the Greek hero Achilles.
The artwork forms the floor of what’s believed to be a large dining or entertaining area and part of a large villa building occupied in the late Roman period, between the third and fourth century A.D.
The complex is likely to have been occupied by a wealthy individual who knew about classical literature, experts said.
Mosaics often featured characters from history and mythology and were commonly seen in buildings across the Roman Empire.
But according to ULAS, the mosaic featuring Achilles and his battle with Hector at the conclusion of the Trojan War is “one of only a handful of examples from across Europe.”
The discovery is being celebrated as “certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the U.K. in the last century,” according to John Thomas, ULAS deputy director and the project manager on the excavations.
“It gives us fresh perspectives on the attitudes of people at the time, their links to classical literature, and it also tells us an enormous amount about the individual who commissioned this piece. This is someone with a knowledge of the classics, who had the money to commission a piece of such detail, and it’s the very first depiction of these stories that we’ve ever found in Britain,” he added.
On Thursday the university announced that the mosaic had been protected as a Scheduled Monument by U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.