Archaeologists Find ‘Remarkable’ Roman Villa Full of Coins, Jewelry and ‘Curse Tablets’

Discovered at a housing development in England, the complex’s buildings may be nearly 2,000 years old

The lead scrolls found onsite resemble Roman "curse tablets," used to write messages to higher powers. Red River Archaeology Group

Archaeologists have uncovered a “richly decorated” Roman villa complex during excavations in the English countryside. The site contained strange artifacts—such as miniature axes and scrolls—that may have once been used in rituals.

Located in the village of Grove, some 60 miles west of London, the area had been occupied since the Bronze Age, according to a statement from the Red River Archaeology Group (RRAG), which organized the dig.

The newly discovered complex wasn’t built until Britain’s Roman era: It included several “hall-like ‘aisle buildings,’” which date to the late first and second centuries C.E., as well as a “winged-corridor” villa.

Mini Axe
Miniature axes that may have been used in Roman rituals Red River Archaeology Group

“The sheer size of the buildings that still survive and the richness of goods recovered suggest this was a dominant feature in the locality, if not the wider landscape,” says Louis Stafford, a senior project manager at RRAG, in the statement.

The villa featured a main hall that connected multiple rooms. It was likely built before the neighboring aisle buildings, which were larger structures that may have been added as the owners’ wealth grew, as site director Francesca Giarelli tells CNN’s Issy Ronald. One of the complex’s buildings likely had multiple levels and was so imposing it “was probably visible for miles,” she adds.

In addition to their size, these structures were impressive for their intricate decorations. Live Science’s Jennifer Nalewicki writes that the buildings were “embellished with painted plaster, mosaics, ornate tile work, colonnades, brick floors and other ornamentations.”

The complex contained several buildings, one of which probably had multiple levels. SUMO GeoSurveys

The excavations also revealed a trove of artifacts, including brooches, rings, coins, tableware and a belt buckle decorated with horses. Researchers think the belt buckle, which dates to between 350 and 450 C.E., may have belonged to a member of the Roman elite, per the statement. The artifacts suggest that Romans occupied the area through the fourth or fifth century C.E.

“The site is far more complex than a regular rural site and clearly was an important center of activities for a long time, from the Bronze Age to the later Roman period,” says Giarelli in the statement.

During the Roman Empire’s reign in Britain, which lasted from 43 to around 411 C.E., villas weren’t only dwellings; they were “small administrative centers,” Giarelli tells CNN. Villa residents were often responsible for maintaining roads, managing crops and storing food.

Painted pieces of plaster were discovered among the Roman buildings. Red River Archaeology Group

Details about the villa residents’ lives remain elusive. The researchers still don’t know “where all the people ended up,” but they think the complex contains a burial, Giarelli tells CNN. Some curious objects found during the excavation also provide clues about the occupants’ spiritual practices.

According to the statement, researchers unearthed an “enigmatic assemblage of tightly-coiled lead scrolls.” Straightened out, the scrolls resemble Roman “curse tablets”—scraps of lead the Romans used to write messages to higher powers. The site also revealed several “miniature votive axes” during excavations. These are similar to a collection of miniature weapons once found in the village of Uley, thought to have been offered to gods like Mercury.

BBC News reports that the excavation comes ahead of a planned housing development in Grove’s Brookside Meadows. Campbell Gregg, the development company’s managing director, hopes the ongoing research will help locals better understand the region’s history.

“It’s remarkable to think that we are simply the latest in a line of people who have established a community on this site,” he says in the statement.

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