New archaeological discovery sheds light on Leicester's Roman past

Posted by ap507 at Feb 03, 2017 11:15 AM |
Leicester archaeologists excavating site in city centre uncover 'fantastic mosaic' and home with underfloor heating
New archaeological discovery sheds light on Leicester's Roman past

Credit: Carl Vivian / University of Leicester

Leicester archaeologists have uncovered a fantastic Roman mosaic and evidence of good living over 1,500 years ago in the city centre in a home with underfloor heating.

The team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) is currently excavating a large site on the corner of Highcross Street and Vaughan Way, next to Leicester’s John Lewis car park. The project, which has been running since November 2016, is uncovering exciting new evidence for Leicester’s Roman past, including evidence for a Roman street, and a Roman house once floored with mosaic pavements.

The excavation covers nearly two-thirds of a Roman insula (city block), giving archaeologists an amazing opportunity to investigate life in the north-east quarter of the Roman town. So far, a Roman street and three Roman buildings have been identified.

Today, Highcross Street still follows the line of the main road leading from the Roman forum (beneath Jubilee Square) to the north gate, at the junction with Sanvey Gate. On this western side of the site a large Roman building has been uncovered. Two ranges of rooms flanked by a corridor or portico appear to surround a courtyard. At least one room had a hypocaust (underfloor heating), and it is likely that this is a large townhouse, reminiscent of the Vine Street courtyard house excavated nearby, beneath the John Lewis car park, in 2006.

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A reconstruction of what the Vine Street courtyard house might have looked like in the late 3rd century AD. It was discovered during excavations for the John Lewis car park in 2006. Artwork: Mike Codd
Mathew Morris, site director for ULAS, said: “The mosaic is fantastic, it’s been a long time since we’ve found a large, well-preserved mosaic in Leicester. Stylistically, we believe it dates to the early fourth century AD. It would have originally been in a square room in the house. It has a thick border of red tiles surrounding a central square of grey tiles. Picked out in red in the grey square are several decorations, including a geometric border, foliage and a central hexafoil cross. As part of the project, our plan is to lift and conserve it for future display.”

More curious, however, is a third small Roman building found in the centre of the site. It has a large sunken room or cellar, and it possibly has a small apse (semi-circular niche) attached to one side. Currently, the building has no obvious purpose, but sunken rooms are relatively unusual in the Roman period.

Mathew Morris added: “At the moment there is a lot of speculation about what this building might be. It could be a large hypocaust but we are still investigating. It seems to be tucked away in yards and gardens in the middle of the insula, giving it privacy away from the surrounding streets; and the possible apse is only really big enough to house something like a statue, which makes us wonder if it is something special like a shrine.”

Uncovering Leicester's Roman Past - The Mosaic Floor:

BBC East Midlands coverage: