WORK has stopped on a new Italian restaurant after builders uncovered a high-quality Roman mosaic floor.
The patterned floor was revealed as trenches were being dug for a new kitchen at the Trinity Street, Dorchester, premises.
Restaurant owner Luciano Tombolani said he was not surprised to find Roman remains at the site but he was astonished by the quality.
He said: "This looks to me like a very important person's house. It must have been done by craftsmen perhaps four or five of them from Rome maybe came here to work on it."
Mr Tombolani, who is from Venice, added: "They came over here and have stopped me from working on my restaurant now."
Archaeologists from Context One Archaeological Services, who were overseeing the work because Roman remains had been found in the area in recent developments, spotted the floor as a mini digger started to prepare the footings for a kitchen extension.
Archaeologist Peter Fairclough said: "At about 80 centimetres down we found some tesserae. It was very exciting we knew it was Roman straight away. We appear to have found the border pattern for a larger floor."
His colleague Joshua Slator added: "It's like getting a snapshot of what's there. We'll need to do a lot of research to find out more.
"It's a very good find a real highlight in an archaeologist's career to find something like this."
They also found Roman roof tiles, known as tegula, as well as animal bones, oyster shells and fine tableware that was probably imported from the continent.
Mr Fairclough said the main part of the floor appeared to run away from the restaurant and under concrete hard-standing. "We'll probably never know what the main central pattern is."
Mr Tombolani said he was pleased to find the floor and wants the people of Dorchester to be able to see it. He said: "This is the history of Dorchester. In Italy we find things like this all the time and know how to deal with it. I would like part of it to be exposed under glass so people can come and see it."
He said he was worried that work had to stop while archaeologists, his architect and council conservation officers were deciding how to proceed.
He added: "It is possible to put a foundation over it without damaging the floor but Dorchester people should be able to see it. I'm worried about the expense of all this it's already caused a delay. I don't want to have a bill for thousands of pounds for it. The council should do it."
Richard McConnell of Context One said: "The mosaic would have decorated the floor of a room in an opulent town house.
"A previous discovery of a mosaic further along Trinity Street suggests that both belong to the same property.
"The mosaic has survived remarkably well and shows an intricate border of swirling waves, chevrons and interwoven bands made from tiny red, white, grey and dark blue tesserae."
He added that detailed recording would be carried out and the mosaic would be protected before building work continues. Specialists would analyse the finds and they would go to Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.
West Dorset District Council's design and conservation officer Kim Winter said the council's planning consent was subject to a condition that archaeological finds must be observed and recorded.
She added: "We are working closely with the county archaeologist and the owner's architect."
Mr Tombolani had planned to open his La Gondola restaurant in July.
He opened his first restaurant in Hampton Court in the 1990s and has had others in Eastbourne and Brighton.