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Roman villa unearthed in Cambridgeshire

Long hidden beneath the ground at a Cambridgeshire nature reserve, a lost Roman Villa is set to return to the fore on Saturday.

Roman villa unearthed in Cambridgeshire
The villa was first discovered in 1991, but recent excavation has
 revealed further treasures [Credit: David Johnson]
The 1,660-year-old stone structure was first discovered by Cambridge University archaeologists in the early 1990s, but following further excavations, is set to be shown off to the public for the first time.

Measuring approximately 50 square metres, the villa, at the RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton Lakes was home to a wealthy Roman settlement, prompting experts to reassess their view of the region as a 'fen backwater'.

Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), led the project examining the villa.

He told the News: "It's a series of corridor-linked rooms with one site suggesting a bath house. We are also getting building stone which is very rare in our area, because there is no stone here, so everything is imported. There's no doubt we are dealing with a very high value building."

Roman villa unearthed in Cambridgeshire
Roman coin discovered at the site 
[Credit: David Johnson]
It is believed the building stone was imported from Lincolnshire, possibly along the Roman canal system, while glass, pottery and tile fragments suggest the building was inhabited by a high-profile figure of the late Roman period.

Mr Evans said: "The land north of Cambridge going up to the Ouse people used to talk about as the Fen Hinterland, which is a way of saying there was very little archaeology there. This was the first Roman building found in the area, but subsequently, with work on the A14, the North West Cambridge development and at Northstowe we now know that's just nonsense."

Visitors to the reserve can discover the villa for themselves on Saturday, when the CAU will be running hourly tours of the site.

The excavation has had particular relevance for the RSPB, with archaeological evidence also shedding light on the birds commonly found in the area at the time.

Fragments of bird bones recovered from sacrifices have demonstrated how the area teemed with life, with cranes, bitterns, marsh harriers, eels and even Dalmatian pelicans – a bird even larger than a swan that once bred in Britain – all found in abundance.

Mr Evans said: "To find these bird bone assemblages is quite rare because they are hollow, and break up very small. You have to sift the soil, so it's a nice sense of serendipity to find it on the RSPB reserve."

He added: "There would have been high-status Roman inhabitants here, but also in the outbuilding you would have had serfs. There would have been farms every 300-500 metres, so they could go out of the front door and wave to their neighbours. It paints quite a stable picture of life in the Roman countryside."

Author: Adam Care | Source: Cambridge News [August 28, 2015]

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