In keeping with the United Kingdom’s grand tradition of discovering ancient wonders just lying around—hoards of ancient coins, burial pits—a family wiring their barn for electricity so they could play table tennis learned they were sitting on the remains of a large Roman villa.
The lavish mosaic just underneath the garden was their first clue.
The New York Times covers the find in Wiltshire, at the home of rug designer Luke Irwin. Archeologists now say the villa was probably three stories tall, built sometime between A.D. 175 and 220, and lasted hundreds of years. “The site has not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago, and so it’s of extreme importance,” said historian David Roberts. And the residents were clearly very fancy and very well-to-do:
In an eight-day dig in the property, near Tisbury, archaeologists also found coins, jewelry, pottery, a well, under-floor heating pipes, and the shells of hundreds of oysters and whelks, which had apparently been farmed, harvested and then carried 45 miles into the countryside in barrels of salt water, indicating that the Roman owners were people of some standing and wealth.
Historic England called the find “unparalleled in recent years,” in part because the remains of the villa, with its outbuildings, were so undisturbed, and it is hoping to get more funds for a more complete dig. It estimates that the villa had 20 to 25 rooms on the ground floor alone.
In a more gruesome touch, Irwin also learned that the stone planter that held his geraniums was originally a child’s coffin.