A rug designer in Wiltshire stumbled upon a hugely significant Roman archaeological find while having a barn on his property converted for his children.
Luke Irwin’s find is said to be unparalleled by historic England, but until the electricians started drilling into the floor to install the underfloor cables Luke insisted on, they had no idea they were there.
Today’s Conveyancer spoke to Dr Peter Guest, Senior Lecturer in Roman Archaeology at Cardiff University, who says while it’s impossible to know if a significant find is beneath a property, it’s very easy to see where any existing finds are online.
Dr Guest, who has been working on projects near Cirencester as well as in South Wales, also outlined where Roman properties are most likely to be found.
Dr Guest said: “There are a lot of Roman villas that are known, they’re a common of feature in Roman Britain, but there are always new sites being found and it happens quite regularly, particularly when development is going ahead, like extensions or roads or housing developments, but this one appears to be rather a big.
The online service Heritage Gateway can be used to search for any historic find down to within 100m of a particular location. But surprisingly, finds as significant as this one don’t always have the legal protection their historic value might call for.
Dr Guest continued: “Legally a person who finds something like this might not have to do anything at all with it. There are various acts of Parliament that cover finds, but the most recent is treasure, that is portable artefacts, but only gold and silver.
“If it’s bone, floors or bits of pottery and such there’s no legal requirement to leave the or declare them. But what does or should usually happen, when someone has found something on their land, you get hold of the county archaeologist and they run a historic environment record check. Each country has one, or they might be amalgamated with a neighbouring county, and they have all archaeological finds recorded to date. The first thing to do is check the site so they can see if this discovery is known or not.
“With this find, Historic England got involved so at some stage the landowner must have said something, they go off and check, and it becomes a new dot on the map.
“For known sites, they’re either scheduled or not scheduled. If they are scheduled, they are covered and protected, but if they’re not scheduled they aren’t. It doesn’t mean you can do anything you want, but they’re not at the top level, like the grades in listed building status.
“As far as where villas are known, we know of villas across all of Roman Britain, but they’re much more common in the south of England. There’s a line that goes from Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and down to the Cotswolds, Somerset and Dorset. Then along the coast it’s from Kent to Hampshire, that’s where 75% of villas are known,
“Further north and west from there, the fewer they become. So when you get to Wales, there’s a concentration on the south coast in what used to be Glamorgan over to the Gower peninsula just past Swansea. There are a one or two in the west and one or two in the north of Wales, but very small number.
“The reasons why they’re there aren’t clear, but it sort of matches up with where the civilian zone was in the south and east and military zone in north and west. Where you get parts of the Roman army responsible for administration there don’t tend to be villas like this.”