In the summer of 2020, Jim Irvine strolled with his wife and daughters across his father’s farm in the county of Rutland in the United Kingdom, leading to the discovery of a sprawling Roman villa complex and a stunning mosaic beneath the soil.
“I noticed these bits of pottery, oyster shells, and what I now know to be orange Roman roof tiles,” Irvine told i, a UK-based newspaper.
Jim Irvine, son of farmer Brian Naylor, searched up the location of his finding on Google Earth out of curiosity and found a distinct crop mark in the field, which his family had never observed in their decades of working the land.
After contacting a local museum, Irvine and his father returned to the location with spades. They dug through the earth near the outcrop, eventually uncovering a few rusty red mosaic tiles beneath.
“Because of the crop mark, I knew there would be something to find. I was hoping for the top of a wall; I never expected in a million years to come across a mosaic, especially one as special as this,” Irvine told the i newspaper. “I knew we had to proceed very carefully and after a couple of hours I realized it was time to call in the specialists.”
A team of professionals then excavated the site. These experts included the Leicestershire County Council’s archaeological unit, staff, and students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History and Historic England, a British government agency sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
The archaeological team has unearthed the rest of the mosaic discovered by the Irvine family and several other nearby structures such as barns and possible baths during the last year.
According to experts, the villa complex was most likely occupied between the third and fourth centuries.
Homer’s “Iliad” scene is depicted in the recently unearthed mosaic, which measures 36 feet (11 meters) by 23 feet (7 meters). Achilles, a Greek warrior, confronts Troy Prince Hector at the Trojan War.
At first, the mosaic could have been used as a floor in the dining room or entertainment area, but some tiles were cracked or damaged by the fire, implying that the space was later repurposed, Live Science reported.
According to the statement, human bodies were discovered buried on the mosaic, and archaeologists believe they were interred when the building was no longer used.
“This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the U.K. in the last century,” John Thomas, the deputy director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and project manager on the excavations, said in the statement. “The fact that we have the wider context of the surrounding complex is also hugely significant because previous excavations on Roman villas have only been able to capture partial pictures of settlement[s] like these, but this appears to be a very well-preserved example of a villa in its entirety.”