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Villa thriller on your door step

PUBLISHED: 10:30 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:58 23 August 2010

Roman mosaic

Roman mosaic

BEFORE it was abandoned in the early 5th Century, Lullingstone Roman Villa was a prosperous farm, where a family lived and worked for more than 300 years. It lay forgotten and undiscovered until the late 1940s when archaeologists uncovered the remains of

Roman artefacts discovered

BEFORE it was abandoned in the early 5th Century, Lullingstone Roman Villa was a prosperous farm, where a family lived and worked for more than 300 years.

It lay forgotten and undiscovered until the late 1940s when archaeologists uncovered the remains of what is now one of the most important Roman sites in Britain.

The site was first opened to the viewing public in 1963, but closed last year to undergo a £1.3 million refit. Last week, the site - which lies half a mile south west of Eynsford - reopened to the public once again.

A new building and roof housing the Villa contains 240 historically important artefacts found at the site, many of which have not been seen since

HISTORY BOYS: Roman Building Trust Director Tony Rook alongside English Heritage Chairman Lord Bruce-Lockhart.

the 1950s.

As well as a brand new gift shop and tea bar, new lighting dramatically highlights the rooms and an almost perfect mosaic floor, thought to have been laid during the 4th Century.

As you enter the building that houses the Villa ruins, it is hard not to be taken in by the history of the place. For a moment, walking around the outside of the excavation, you get a very real sense of what it was like to live in the Villa almost 2,000 years ago.

Although it was known that a Roman site existed at Lullingstone during the 19th Century, the exact location was not found until 1939 and excavations did not begin until after World War Two. Tony Rook, director of the Roman Building Trust, was one of the archaeologists who worked on the excavations of the Villa back in 1949, when it was first unearthed.

ROMAN TREAT: The recent £1.3m investment has made Lullingstone Roman Villa an even more captivating historical site to visit. Pictures by Andy Barnes.

He said: "Back then this was a beautiful place, from what it looks like today you can't begin to imagine what it looked like before it was found.

"This was a green hill side, with hawthorn bushes all over it, rows of trees, with nightingales singing in the bushes. It was peace and quiet. Apart from the scraping of trowels and the rattling of buckets it was a very peaceful place.

"When we first started digging, we could tell we had found something important. Almost immediately we were on the mosaic.

"When we found such a large piece of mosaic, we knew it was something special. I have never found a mosaic on any of the sites I have excavated since then."

Walking around the Villa, the many displays and artwork give a vivid picture of Roman Britain. Included in the display is an incredible collection of grave artefacts, discovered in a mausoleum on the site. It contained the bodies of a man and a woman in their twenties, who lived in the 4th Century. One of four skeletons of babies is also on display, dating from the 2nd Century. Mr Rook was digging at the time one of the two marble busts of bearded men were found. Research suggests that one of the busts, (the originals are now kept at the British museum) may be of Pertinax, governor of Britain from 185 to 186 AD and Emperor for three months in 193 AD.

He added: "We were excavating in the deepest room, which was completely full of rubble.

"We were throwing away the flints and we came across the top of it. Ernest Greenfield, one of the leaders of the excavation, uncovered the top, and first of all he thought it was female. It was almost time to go home, but we realised we had got a statue.

"I suggested I would come and sleep on the site for the night, it was a completely open site at that time, no security - the mosaic we used to cover up with a tarpaulin each day!

"We thought we could fill the hole in again, nobody would know, but Ernest was very inpatient, a bit like me. He said that we could probably dig it out today, and so we did."

Another unique aspect of the Villa is the discovery of some of the best evidence for the transition from Pagan beliefs to the adoption of Christianity in Britain. The house-church is located directly above a cult room which contains a picture of a painted scene of water nymphs for pagan worship.

Lord Bruce-Lockhart, English Heritage Chairman, said: "My role as chairman is to look at all of the 400 sites we have across England and to see where we think it may be worthwhile investing. What we felt about this site is that it had so much potential, it was worth putting money in.

"We had to look at putting a roof on, and you have got to create what I think is an absolutely wonderful building.

"What is extraordinary here is that if you let your imagination wander, this is what actually happened, this is where people lived, this is where they played their games, this for real, and it is therefore unique. People in north Kent should be very, very proud of something like this."

l Lullingstone Roman Villa is open daily from 10am until 6pm until September 30, from 10am until 4pm from October 1 to November 30, from 10am to 4pm on Wednesdays to Sundays from December 1 to January 31, 2009 and from 10am until 4pm daily from February 1 to March 31, 2009.

Admission is £5.50 for adults, £4.40 for concessions, £2.80 for children and 13.80 for a family ticket.

For more information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/lullingstone or call 0870 333 1181.

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