Saturday, April 11, 2015


Archaeologists say they have been given a “rare glimpse” into a vast Roman villa with winged corridors and a pavilion-style room with an underfloor heating system on the proposed site of a new bypass in North Yorkshire. Small sections of tessellated mosaic and a concrete floor, covered by wall plaster lying face down on top of it, have been discovered in Bedale, where an excavation of the villa, launched in November 2014, has unearthed pottery from between the mid-3rd and 4th centuries and a nearby ditched enclosure from the late Iron Age Romano-British period. The site lies comparatively close to Dere Street, a former Roman road, and within ten kilometres of the major Roman site at Catterick.

The villa is located on a ridge of higher land defined by Scurf Beck to the west, which flows southwards into Bedale Beck, a tributary of the River Swale, and Dere Street Roman road to the east.Geophysical surveying indicates that the villa is of a substantial size and is set within a landscape of enclosures and field systems. The road corridor runs through the western extent of the villa and a triangular area of land has also been stripped of topsoil to the east to better understand the Aiskew villa complex. The masonry walls of the villa have been robbed at some date, with the stones presumably used to build structures somewhere in the vicinity.

An intact concrete floor surface survives in the room at the north-east end of the corridor beneath areas of painted wall plaster which had collapsed onto the floor, possibly when the villa was demolished. A small square room with internal dimensions of around four meters appears to have been added on to the north-west side of the villa complex at some date. This was a room heated by a hypcocaust system, demonstrated by the remains of pilae stacks which would have supported a suspended floor. Hot air would have been drawn under the floor from a fire within an external stokehole identified on the north-west side of the room. Hollow wall tiles know as box-flue tiles would have been attached to the inside of the stone external walls and the hot air would have travelled up through the tiles and out of the building through vents. The internal surface of the tiles was covered in layers of plaster and the final layer was painted. The demolition debris excavated from this room by experts contained large quantities of wall tiles and painted wall plaster in many different colours, suggesting that this was a well-appointed room. It may have been used for entertaining and could perhaps be a heated dining room. Stone and tile roof tiles have also been recovered from demolition deposits across the building.

Quantities of animal bone have been found alongside oyster and mussel shells. Personal items including bone pins and copper-alloy brooches have been discovered, as well as iron tools including knives and a cleaver, used to butcher animals.

Such enclosures were in use in the region from the Late Iron Age, with the local population continuing to occupy many sites into the Roman period. The interior of the Bedale enclosure has been badly damaged by ploughing and all that survives are a few pits; there are no traces of insubstantial structures such as roundhouses.The upper fills of the ditch have produced small quantities of handmade Iron Age tradition pottery; such pottery is not closely datable as it was manufactured in this region over a very long period and continued to be manufactured during the Roman period. The enclosure was obviously in use into the Roman period as a small quantity of wheel-thrown Romano-British and imported samian pottery has also been found.


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