Visit the remains of a Roman villa at Eddington as part of Open Cambridge

PUBLISHED: 12:56 14 September 2018 | UPDATED: 19:06 14 September 2018

Christopher Evans of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. Picture: Keith Heppell

Christopher Evans of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. Picture: Keith Heppell

Iliffe Media Ltd

It is clear that there was a fairly substantial Roman presence at the new city area being developed by the University of Cambridge, as the remains of a Roman villa are being excavated near the site.

Volunteers at work at Eddington. Picture: Keith HeppellVolunteers at work at Eddington. Picture: Keith Heppell

The villa has been uncovered by the university’s archaeological unit in a field next to the Madingley Road Park & Ride and will be open to the public at Open Eddington this weekend. Digging began in the field around three weeks ago.

The team already suspected the existence of a Roman building when they discovered Roman building materials, including roof tiles, bricks and window glass, in the area during a previous dig.

But having previously uncovered two prehistoric funerary monuments, Roman settlements, cemeteries and roads, experts were not expecting to unearth anything further.

The excavation – in an area the size of four football pitches – has revealed a rectangular Roman enclosure containing the outline of a ‘winged-type’ villa, along with a large aisled hall and other buildings.

Eddington archaeological dig. Picture: Keith HeppellEddington archaeological dig. Picture: Keith Heppell

One of the most exciting details uncovered so far is the existence of thousands of red, yellow and white tesserae – tiles which would have formed part of a mosaic floor.

Though still early in its excavation, the team has found shards of decorative glass jars imported from elsewhere across the Roman Empire, as well as tiles from elaborate underfloor heating systems, along with discarded oyster shells from the family’s meals thousands of years ago.

Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, told the Cambridge Independent: “We did evaluation fieldwork here, largely in 2009, so we had quite a good idea of what to anticipate in the larger landscape.

“So far, through North West Cambridge – but also West Cambridge – we’ve dug four Roman farmsteads. But by far the most important is this site.

Eddington archaeological dig. Picture: Keith HeppellEddington archaeological dig. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We knew that we had a rich Roman settlement here, based on the evaluation trenching – which is when you discover what sites are here. We thought it was going to go under the Park & Ride, but it hasn’t – we’ve actually got it all here and it is a full Roman villa.”

Christopher said that the villa is incredibly important in terms of better understanding the landscape.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that this is probably one of the most comprehensive and coordinated excavations of large-scale Roman landscape that’s been done in the Roman Empire.

“We’ve had people from the American School of Rome come to see the results because it’s very difficult to find the equivalent.”

Volunteer Blake Allen with the find of a coin. Picture: Keith HeppellVolunteer Blake Allen with the find of a coin. Picture: Keith Heppell

Christopher added: “It’s not regular domestic life, by any means – it’s more highly controlled. We know of other villas in the Cambridge area, but there’s been no opportunity to excavate them, scientifically and to do the full environmental work on them.

“I hope to have achieved a pretty good understanding of the villa-based economy here. Then I’m going to wrap this whole thing up and publish it and it’s going to make one of the great studies of Roman countryside in Eastern England!”

As we watch, one of those working on the site uncovers a coin.

Eddington is located off Huntingdon Road, Cambridge. and, as part of the university’s Open Cambridge events, the dig site will be open to the public tomorrow (Saturday, September 15).

As well as the archaeological dig, Open Eddington includes more than 25 different events led by the renowned architects, professionals and development partners who have all contributed to creating Eddington.

Details and booking are available at opencambridge.cam.ac.uk. All events listed as part of Open Eddington are free.

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