In 1988, crews building a shopping mall in southeast England discovered an ancient Roman mosaic. But because there wasn’t enough funding to study the artifact, they simply jotted down the mosaic’s location and carefully covered it back up. Over the next three-and-a-half decades, shoppers had no idea they were walking on top of a nearly 2,000-year-old piece of artwork.
Now, the intricately patterned mosaic is finally getting its moment in the sun, reports Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp. Officials with the Lion Walk Shopping Centre and the Colchester Borough Council have launched a project to uncover the piece and protect it with a piece of glass.
Colchester, which is situated roughly 60 miles northeast of London, was the first Roman capital of England. It’s also the oldest recorded town in Britain. As such, Roman artifacts tend to pop up from time to time, including more than 40 known mosaics recorded by the Colchester Archaeological Trust, reports Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred.
“Colchester is not well enough known for its Roman heritage as it ought to be,” says Philip Crummy, the trust’s director, to Artnet.
If a royal visit wasn't enough, we've discovered a piece of history that's been buried beneath our city for almost 2,000 years!— Lion Walk (@ShopLionWalk) March 21, 2023
We are working with @colchestercitycouncil and colch_archaeological_trust to excavate and preserve this artwork. pic.twitter.com/jNUON7NL2N
As crews carefully excavated the mosaic, located in front of a vape shop, a stream of curious shoppers stopped to watch them work. Martin Leatherdale, the shopping center’s manager, described the interest from passersby as “phenomenal” to the Colchester Gazette’s Daniel Rees.
“We are confident that we are in a good position to understand the science and infrastructure changes required to unveil this masterpiece in all its glory this summer,” he tells the publication.
So far, archaeologists believe they’ve unearthed about a fifth of the total mosaic size, including some sections that were not originally revealed in the late 1980s. They hope to wrap up the project and display the mosaic by the end of this summer.
Before becoming Colchester, the city was named “Camulodunum,” in honor of the god of war. After the Roman emperor Claudius succesfuly invaded of Britain in 43 C.E., he directed his army to build a fortress at Camulodunum. A few years later, the site became a civilian town and was picked to be the first capital of Rome’s new province, Britannia.
During that period, when the colony was largely made up of retired soldiers, crews erected a variety of buildings, including the Temple of Claudius; the town also once boasted three theaters, a senate house, townhouses and a Roman chariot-racing circus, according to the local tourism agency, Visit Colchester. The settlement and many of its buildings burned down in 60 C.E. during a rebellion against the Romans led by the local Iceni and Trinovantes people.The town was later rebuilt with a defensive wall, about two-thirds of which still stands today. Present-day visitors can also wander through the Colchester Castle museum, which was built at the site of the destroyed temple.