A project to uncover a Roman mosaic from the 4th century AD near Boxford, Berkshire, has been successfully completed, revealing one of the most impressive mosaics found in the UK. It was originally discovered towards the end of a three-year project (2015-2017) looking at three sites related to high-status Roman occupation in the Lambourn Valley (see CA 333). Time constraints made it impossible to fully excavate the mosaic at the time, but after two years of fundraising the Boxford History Project (BHP) embarked on a project to reveal it completely.
The project this past August involved over 100 volunteers, mostly from the local area, led by professional archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology. Over ten days the mosaic was carefully uncovered, cleaned, and recorded. It was presented to over 3,000 members of the public during a single Open Day on 31 August, before being re-covered with a layer of sieved soil to protect it, and the trench backfilled, burying the mosaic again.
The full uncovering of the mosaic allowed for identification of its decoration, which consists of a number of stories from Ancient Greek mythology. The major theme is the triumphs of Pelops and Bellerophon, and an interest in horses has been noted in all the stories. Some of the specific depictions include Bellerophon on his winged-horse Pegasus defeating a monster (a popular story in Britain, as it is a forerunner to the tale of St George and the Dragon), and Pelops tampering with his opponent’s chariot, to make the wheel fall off, so he could win the hand of the princess Hippodamia. The chariot race between Pelops and the king is particularly noteworthy, as it is one of only three known examples of the scene in the whole of the Roman Empire. Also shown in the mosaic are Hercules slaying a centaur and Alexander the Great taming his horse Bucephalus.
One inscription has been identified as saying ‘I want to live’ – a fitting phrase as the mosaic, although reburied, is far from dead. The project has allowed the local community and the wider public to see this unique mosaic in its entirety for the first time in 1,400 years, and as it is now fully recorded it will live on as part of the history of art in Britain.