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Finding a Roman Villa in North West Cambridge

last modified Oct 12, 2018 03:18 PM
The remains of a Roman villa and aisled hall have been discovered during a Cambridge Archaeological Unit excavation in advance of the new University of Cambridge development at Eddington.

North West Cambridge, Site VII Villa. Image credit: Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit


After an interval of four years, anticipating the second-stage of the University's Eddington development at North West Cambridge, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit have returned for a final phase of excavation there. 

Four sites are being investigated, with two relating to the area's Roman roads and, another, one of the period's early farmsteads. Most significant, though, is the large-scale excavation of a Roman villa in the field immediately west of the Madingley Road Park-&-Ride. 

As evident in the great quantities of building material (eg roof tiles/slates, 'imported' building stones, window glass and mosaic pieces) that were recovered there when the field was first trench-investigated in 2009, the existence of a high status Roman building at the location was suspected. Now, with the entire field stripped of its topsoil cover - an area the size of c. four football pitches - set within a ditched compound, the well-preserved remains of a 'winged-type' villa and its enormous associated aisled hall/barn, have been unearthed. 

The team has also found fragments of decorative glass jars imported from across the Roman Empire, tiles from under-floor heating systems, and, most excitingly, approximately 500 red, yellow, and white tesserae, which probably formed part of a mosaic floor.

Glass fragments from the site. Image credit: Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit


According to Christopher Evans, the Executive Director of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, "The site is a tremendous find. It represents, as it were, the last piece in the puzzle of West/North West Cambridge's Roman landscape. Over the last almost 20 years, we've been able to excavate a number of small Roman farmsteads there and, in one case, a more developed farm that also included a local market and shrines - as well as a major Roman roadside centre lying opposite Girton College - but, finally getting the villa allows us to see how all these parts interacted."

"The chance to conduct intense environmental sampling and apply other scientific techniques on the site will allow us to gratly detail the area's Roman farming production and how, from this hinterland basis, Roman Cambridge was fed."

"Indeed, taken together, the excavations now amount to one of the most comprehensive investigations of Roman land-use anywhere within the lands of its empire. We've only been privileged by the opportunity that, over the decades, the scale of the University's developments there have enables such archaeological fieldwork." 

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