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First they found a dead king's body. Now they've uncovered an ancient mosaic

A panel of the mosaic discovered by a team of archaeologists in England. The researchers say it shows the body of Hector returning to his father, King Priam (right), in exchange for his weight in gold.
A panel of the mosaic discovered by a team of archaeologists in England. The researchers say it shows the body of Hector returning to his father, King Priam (right), in exchange for his weight in gold.

Updated November 26, 2021 at 3:42 PM ET

The hits just keep coming for an elite team of British archaeologists.

First they unearthed the remains of King Richard III. The body of the last English king killed in battle — in 1485 — was found underneath a parking lot by members of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services in 2012, more than 500 years later. (As it happens, you can hear their enthusiastic accounting of the discovery on a 12-part podcast series.)

And just this Thursday, ULAS announced it has excavated an important Roman mosaic in the East Midlands depicting the legendary hero Achilles battling Hector during the final days of the Trojan War.

"This is certainly the most exciting Roman mosaic discovery in the UK in the last century," said ULAS project manager John Thomas, who oversaw the excavations, in a release from the university.

Rutland Villa Project. A team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations of a mosaic pavement.
Steven Baker / Historic England Archive
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Rutland Villa Project. A team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations of a mosaic pavement.

The mosaic is believed to date back to the late Roman Empire, roughly 250 to 450, and is part of a massive villa complex buried beneath a farmer's field.

Measuring 36 feet by almost 22 feet, it's about the size of three bowling lanes, and was first spotted by the landowner's son during the pandemic in 2020. After the family contacted the archaeological team at Leicestershire County Council, the site was excavated by ULAS with the help of heritage preservation group Historic England and in liaison with Rutland County Council. (ULAS is described as a commercial unit affiliated with the University of Leicester.)

The mosaic comprised the floor of what was likely a sprawling dining or entertaining area, according to researchers. It's one of only a handful of examples of similar works of art from across Europe centering on this subject. The mosaic may be just the first significant treasure yielded by the site, which Thomas described as "very well-preserved."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rutland Villa Project. David Neal making notes on his illustration during the excavation of the mosaic.
Steven Baker / Historic England Archive
/
Rutland Villa Project. David Neal making notes on his illustration during the excavation of the mosaic.
Rutland Villa Project. A member of the team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations of a mosaic pavement.
Steven Baker / Historic England Archive
/
Rutland Villa Project. A member of the team from ULAS/University of Leicester during the excavations of a mosaic pavement.

Corrected: November 27, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story said the Roman mosaic is believed to be from 250 to 450 BCE. It is actually likely from around the 3rd or 4th century.