Time Team Series 17: There's A Villa Here Somewhere (Litlington, Cambridgeshire)

Broadcast 31 October 2010

The ‘Litlington villa’ is an antiquarian puzzle which Time Team hoped to solve. In 1829 the Reverend W. Clack, a respected Cambridgeshire antiquarian, began his investigations in the village of Litlington. Twelve years later he presented the results of his labours to the local community – a huge, 30-roomed Roman villa, complete with elaborate mosaics and painted wall plaster. Then, unfortunately, he died, taking all the information about the site to his grave. His finds were lost, his paintings sold, and now nothing remains from his excavation, apart from one crudely drawn map, showing the location of the ‘villa’, as well as a walled Roman cemetery (‘Heaven’s Walls’), also excavated in the 19th century, producing over 200 cremation urns. Some of the detail can also be pieced together from contemporary newspaper reports.

The puzzle was partially solved. Trenches dug by Time Team confirmed the position of the ‘Litlington villa’, although it was not possible to determine its full extent or layout. Finds from the site included a large quantity of ceramic roof tiles and box flue tiles from a hypocaust heating system, stone and ceramic tesserae from mosaic floors (some areas of flooring were intact), as well as numerous fragments of painted wall plaster – all confirming the Reverend Clack’s original description of the site as a well-appointed residence.

The trenches also located the position of the ‘Heaven’s Walls’ cemetery to the south-east. One largely intact inhumation burial was revealed (although left undisturbed and not excavated), and a quantity of disarticulated bone was recovered from graves disturbed by 19th century quarrying. Around the villa, a number of test pits suggested that further Roman remains may have been destroyed by the housing estate which lay to the north-east of the villa site.

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