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Large Roman villa unearthed in Kent

A Roman villa twice the size of Lullingstone's has been unearthed in Otford. The incredible find – revealed by the Chronicle this week – was discovered by amateur archaeologists digging on land near Otford Palace.

Large Roman villa unearthed in Kent
Excavation work has started on the Roman villa at Otford 
[Credit: West Kent Archaeological Society]
The villa is thought to be the second largest Roman find of its kind in Kent and would have been occupied by a man of wealth and importance around the time of the Emperor Magnus Maximus.

Chairman of West Kent Archaeological Society, Kevin Fromings said he had been waiting half his "archaeological life" for such a find.

"It is big. There is Darenth Roman villa at Sutton-at-Hone which was excavated in the 60s and 70s – but this is certainly the next biggest in Kent.

"One of the wings is 60 metres long."

So far the society, along with a group of independent archaeologists, has carried out a geophysical survey of the site as well as the digging of two limited trenches.

These have revealed a villa built towards the end of the Roman Empire in around 300 or 400 AD but unlike Lulllingstone Roman Villa with its fabulous artefacts and mosaics, little of its interior seems to have survived intact.

"It seems at some point – possibly even during the Roman period – the villa was systematically dismantled and its contents used elsewhere," said Mr Fromings.

"Any bricks or roof tiles we have found have been broken and are incomplete – normally you find a few complete ones but we have not found any at all and this implies they were all re-used elsewhere. As to why they would do that we do not know."

The site was first unearthed two years ago after historical documents dating back to the 1930s suggested a hidden gem of national importance. Further digging this summer revealed the villa's scale and it has now been registered with Historic England.

Mr Fromings said the villa is likely to be scheduled which means any further digging at the site will be subject to special permission and stringent regulations.

"It will offer the villa protection which is a good thing but the one thing we have found is that there is no point in metal detectors going on the field as we have put our own metal detectors over it and we did not find anything," he said. "At the moment the two trenches are open but they have been put to bed for the winter and have covered them in tarpaulin to protect them from frost."

Chairman of the Otford Historical Society, Cliff Ward said Otford was a place of significance during Roman times. Also hidden under its earth are another three smaller "farmstead" type Roman villas.

One of them – "The Progress Villa" – backing on to houses at Rowdow Lane – was also the site of a geographical survey carried out by the West Kent Archaeological Society this summer.

"Otford is at the crest of the downs and there are only about five major river crossings between the coast and Salisbury Plain – which was significant in those days – and Otford was one of them.

"It was halfway to the coast and had plenty of water so that people could make a settlement," said Mr Ward.

"They say in Sevenoaks they have 2,000 years of history – but in Otford we have 4,000 years."

For more information see: 'Progress' Roman Villa Otford, Kent April 2015 by the West Kent Archaeological Society.

Author: Debbie King | Source: Sevenoaks Chronicle [November 19, 2015]

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