Roman villa complex found in Sussex

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The Independent Online

One of the greatest of the Roman villas in Britain is being uncovered, with central heating, agricultural buildings, a baths complex and what appears to be a private temple. The villa was used for 300 years, probably by a great Romano-British family.

One of the greatest of the Roman villas in Britain is being uncovered, with central heating, agricultural buildings, a baths complex and what appears to be a private temple. The villa was used for 300 years, probably by a great Romano-British family.

Preliminary investigationsjust outside Lewes, East Sussex, show the villa was built in the late 1st century AD, 120 metres across, with under-floor heating, at least 25 rooms and richly adorned with decorated wall plaster and mosaic pavements. The baths complex has three lavish buildings, two of which had sophisticated water heating systems. Archaeologists believe the wealthy Romano-British family ran an agricultural estate covering at least four square miles.

Local historical evidence suggests the site continued as the administrative centre of the estate after the Romans left, and seems to have continued to fulfil that role through the Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods. The site remains, to this day, the focal point of a local manorial area.

Chris Butler, an archaeologist, said: "This is an extremely rare discovery. It also raises the probability that someRomano-British land-holdings remained substantially intact and possibly even in the same family through both the 5thcentury Anglo-Saxon and 11th-century Norman seizures of political power." Mr Butler is director of the Mid-Sussex Field Archaeological Team, which has been investigating the villa.

Evidence shows the family's prosperous lifestyle, fragments of imported fine Gallic tableware, pieces of wine or fish amphorae from the Mediter- ranean, shards of delicate glass vessels and the detritus of oyster banquets.

The villa buildings, its courtyard garden and baths covered at least 8,300sq metres. Most were timber-framed on flint and chalk footings, and were roofed with red tiles, giving a generally Mediterranean appearance.

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