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Archaeologists rebury ‘first-of-its-kind’ Roman villa


I'm not an archeologist or historian, but it has been my impression that high-status roman villas typically had rooms linked by courtyards. In that regard, this villa seems to be particularly interesting, given that it appears to be rooms with a central tower. In that regard, I'd be curious to know why they believe it is a villa rather than say, military in nature, especially given the history of the Romans in Britain.


I'm going out on a limb here with speculation: wall paint, tesserae and other signs of high status finishes to interior, and things like a hypocaust and food preparation spaces which don't meet the formalisms of a military facility. That said, I read of military owned staging posts with pretty high investment features like baths. 5 star roadside hotels for senior staffers and government officials on the move. So dual use, or military but fancy is possible. Also not an archaeologist


Yep I think it’s possible that someone on the outpost of their society might still want some semblance of their civilization while they are there.


The tower isn't central. That picture is not of the entire villa.

Here's a video that shows more: I recommend watching with sound off.


Wouldn't a tower have thicker walls? Medieval towers have walls that are several meters thick


The Romans were way ahead of their time in terms of construction ability and plenty of the stuff made much later is downright crude by comparison.


I think we may all be assuming that the round foundation necessarily means tower, when it could just be a round room. Any ancient Roman architecture experts care to weigh in?


Could it have been built for military but then taken over and given a fresh coat of paint (or mosaics, as the case may be) by the new civilian tenant?


Gonna shill Time Team for anyone interested in seeing what these villa digs look like. It’s a British archaeology series with a reality TV twist: they bring a big team of professional archaeologists and do as much digging/surveying as they can in three days per site. Twenty one seasons of it, with the vast majority officially available on YouTube - and they’re in the process of a reboot, which has been remarkably successful thus far.


Yep, love Time Team! The original series is what I use to go to sleep every night.

Also a drinking game - drink every time Phil says "flint, evidence of burning, postholes, or 'stone the crows'". Or yells at Tony for getting in a trench without permission.


How do you go to sleep watching Phil Harding's legs in those too-short cut-offs?



Anyone who has watched Time Team understands why this took place.

England is filthy with Roman ruins, among other sorts. But only when you have a noteworthy celebrity, a reality TV show, and everything that is involved in that, do you have an opportunity to even scrape the surface on many of these sites. The funding just isn't there.

The work is hard, complex, interdisciplinary, and mostly unsexy. But the findings are sometimes incredible.


> But only when you have a noteworthy celebrity, a reality TV show, and everything that is involved in that, do you have an opportunity to even scrape the surface on many of these sites. The funding just isn't there.

Or proposed building works - most day-to-day archaeology is funded by developers as part of the planning process.


History is full of instances of barbarism masquerading as archaeology, so gently investigating then reburying sites seems like an enlightened approach.


I get the wish to preserve but I don’t understand why burry it back? Why not encase it in a temperature/climate controlled structure? I’ve seen plenty archaeological digs like this. Is it due to money or why?


Damage comes in many forms and temperature/climate controlled rooms only prevent a certain kind of damage.

The ancient city of Palmyra was irreparably destroyed by Isis in 2015. No amount of climate control would have protected it from the explosive charges that destroyed it.

Reburying sites like these will better protect them from deliberate damage and incidental damage from wars and such. Archaeologists deal with a timescale that often can’t assume political stability of the area where they dig stuff up. It’s better to not assume that future generations will pay the electric bill to keep the site preserved.


The soil itself also contains information. Not disturbing that unless necessary will let future archaeologists with better technology extract more information.

Also, I'm guessing that the sand encasing the site is a temperature/climate controlled structure when buried properly. No sunlight and no air, for starters.


That's a valid argument against ever performing any dig whatsoever, since it's always true that future archeologists might have better technology to extract more information from anything you find.


Yes, cost. Enclosing an entire estate in a climate controlled structure in northern England is very expensive.


From the article:

> In some cases, resources (like money, staff and proper materials) are not available to properly maintain the site.


This. This stuff happens all the time. So there is a new construction planned somewhere, workers accidentally find some walls etc. Archeological team is dispatched, they remove much more ground, as much as to see how big the object(s) are, what era, figure out they have a archeological gold mine. But they don't have resources (money) allocated for it yet, so they will rebury it. Next year, or in the coming years they'll come back and do the proper excavation. And if I may add a bit sarcastically, a PhD or three.


The archeologists basically studied for the last year, what being buried in that climate and that kind of soil does to the structure. So they understand extremely well if reburying is a good idea or not.


Sure. The main tensions in archaeology are:

1) It was first established by European men and women looting to fill their “curio cabinets,” which makes it hard to position it as a noble field.

2) digging something up later (with more advanced technology) will always be better than digging it up now. There’s even some people who believe the only ethical archaeology is that which occurs before an area would be otherwise destroyed (i.e. before a construction project happens)

The above makes career archaeologists (at least the good ones) a bit neurotic. This seems like an example of that, I just hope their preservation methods aren’t accidentally destructive.


I can't think of a single field of study that wasn't established by Europeans seeking status, except possibly for mathematics which was established by Babylonians seeking grains.


Sure but physics wasn’t “this thing in your country is cool, I’m taking it home with me”

There is a clear difference there.

Imagine if the British Crown Jewels were in a museum in Iran right now!


Recognising that history is important to not repeating it.


I'm not so sure "leaving it in the dirt" is a valid conservation technique. Else museums would be full of boxes of dirt.

I recall when Siberia melted (yes, it melted) ephemera were appearing as the snow and ice disappeared. Even here on HN folks argued emotionally about "leaving it all where it was" instead of collecting it. Even though it would be gone in literally days (fibre bags, lost arrows with fragile fletchings, and on and on) and not collectable later, as it immediately rotted or the wind blew it to pieces.

There's a cult of "leave it where it is!" that defies rationality. So that's part of the equation too.


I went to the British Museum when I was in my twenties and it was not an experience I will repeat. That is not a place of honor, and even in a time before I became more aware of the concerns and troubles of indigenous peoples I felt uncomfortable the entire time I was in there.

It wasn’t a celebration of history. It was a dragon’s hoard.


All those monuments that happened to find themselves in ISIS and Taliban areas of control say hi.


That doesn’t excuse the actions and behaviors of the invaders who stole these artifacts dozens or hundreds of years before isis was even a thing.

Btw things like isis are a direct consequence of actions taken by the English colonialists when they created artificial boundaries.


"By the 19th century, people were no longer consuming mummies to cure illness but Victorians were hosting "unwrapping parties" where Egyptian corpses would be unwrapped for entertainment at private parties."


> I became more aware of the concerns and troubles of indigenous peoples

What a weirdly condescending comment.


Would you rather have Rosetta used as a recycled building material? And half of the artifacts recovered in Mesopotamia later destroyed by radical islamists?


I think they are saying that they would prefer the artifacts to remain in the countries where they were found. Saying that the artifacts would be destroyed if they were not taken to the British Museum seems a bit too much.


There are, in fact, a very wide range of options between "have the British steal it" and "destroy it".


Destroyed like the English banning the Irish language in schools in trying to destroy the Irish language?

Insofar as radical Islamists, the English sided with and supported radical Islamists in Iran against Mossadegh and then against the secular left under the Shah. The English supported Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Watch Lawrence of Arabia, they do it and celebrate it. The English saving secular socialist pan-Arab nationalism against radical Islamists? Please.

The real destruction of artifacts was the destruction of Iraq Museum during the UK's unprovoked invasion of that country. Which they of course blamed on Iraqis. These people are transparent.




I've always had the somewhat silly thought to myself "What if the archaeological record only goes back to the point of past archaeologists digging everything up?"


Soooo dissapointed..

In my hast i read it as…

Archaeologists [REBUILD] ‘First-of-Its-Kind’ Roman Villa

Would have been fantastic to see it rebuilt rather than reburied


It seems reasonable to want to ensure proper excavation and to therefore rebury if the budget is not available to preserve or process the excavation, however it is still rather tragic, perhaps these articles will give the project enough visibility to chase better funding.


Kinda stingy with the pictures. I'd like to see a photo showing the excellent craftsmanship the article discusses.


Usually the evidence of craftsmanship is fragmentary. Ornamental decorations such as engraving and paints survive on bits of structure, plaster, and statuary that allow experts to reconstruct the larger whole.


There are some pictures (13) on the local newspaper's site, but they're mostly similar aerial shots and there's not really any crafsmanship on display:


I didn't know "reburying" was a thing but I like the idea.


It's pretty common. If the site isn't about to be turned into the foundations of a new supermarket (This is a common fate for archaeological sites), you can't just leave an open pit behind. People might fall in! Plus everything deteriorates faster when exposed to the elements. Erecting a building to protect the site might be a nice idea... If you had a lot of money and nothing else to do with it. Some ruins will attract tourists if you build a nice museum around them, but most are too uninteresting or remote to attract enough people to make this worthwhile.

Reburying sites is standard practice. They survived hundreds or thousands of years buried under dirt, so putting the dirt back may help preserve them for hundreds or thousands of years more.

Another practice that may surprise you is that archaeologists often dig up only parts of a site, deliberately. i.e. They'll leave some parts where they think there's something interesting untouched. They do this because digging is a destructive process. Any information that can be gleaned from digging up a site has to be done with the technology and methods of the day. Archaeologists of the future might be able to learn substantially more than archaeologists of today from the same column of earth. So, you dig up only part of the site and leave other parts completely untouched so that future archaeologists can return and learn things you couldn't.


Seems that archaeologists are some of the few people who care about the future, as well as the past.


One very common justification archaeologists give for their field existing beyond heritage preservation is that it can help inform our own responses to future events. Archaeology/history is our only long-term view of societies and how they've adapted to changing conditions historically.

The actual application of that research remains a bit limited though.


"when investigating land slated for a housing development" what happens to the owners/developers when this type of thing happens? Are they reimbursed by the state?


Mostly a case-by-case thing, I think. I know (from watching Time Team) that in Britain there are a fair number of fields which the farmer can farm, but can't dig deeper than that due to the archaeology. Other cases have existing buildings ("Oh, by the way, you have an iron-age cemetery under your house. Enjoy!"). In cases of new development, it would be investigated pretty thoroughly to determine whether it should be protected (involving negotiations with the developer), or either entirely excavated or just left and the development continues.


People have been building on top of previously occupied sites or tearing down buildings to build new ones for our entire history. Suddenly in the latter half of the 1900s it was decided preserving these sites was for some reason I can't comprehend vitally important. We have chosen to stagnate because of the actions of prior generations.


Wow I had no idea archeologists do this, but it makes perfect sense. Reminds me of a commented TODO in code when time or resources do not allow a proper implementation.


Good riddance. I'm sure the folk of Scarborough don't want another occurrence of