THE REMAINS of an intricately decorated Roman villa in a Gayton Thorpe field are being re-covered and grassed over again to protect delicate archaeology from being damaged by treasure hunters.
More than 2,500 visitors turned out to see the site on an open day in August after excavations revealed the villa was much larger than previously thought.
The oppulent villa, dating from between 160 and 180AD, is believed to have been home to generations of wealthy families and includes an elaborate mosaic – now the only recorded mosaic in situ in Norfolk.
The foundations were first excavated in the 1920s and the mosaic remained partly exposed for around 40 years until a hut protecting it fell into disrepair. Now, after examining and recording the archaeology at the site, the villa is part of an area of land being re-covered to protect it from future damage.
Historic environment countryside adviser for Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, David Robertson, said although the villa was protected by law as an ancient monument it was still vulnerable to attacks by nighthawks – treasure hunters with metal detectors who search fields without landowners' permission and damage archaeology to search for finds.
He explained that in the 1920s farming had been allowed to continue on fields covering the archaeology, with restrictions on the depth ploughing could be carried out.
But under a new environmental stewardship scheme launched this year by the government's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) farmers can be offered subsidies to protect areas of their land for environmental and archaeological ends.
Mr Robertson said a lot of the farm had already been put down to grass but did not know if there would be plans to uncover the villa again as under most of the ten-year stewardship schemes re-excavation was not allowed.
A final report on the dig, jointly financed by Heritage Marketing and Publications and Chris Birks Archaeology, is expected to be ready for publication by December 2008.
For more background on the project log on to www.heritagemp.com/gaytonthorpe.asp