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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Roman Life in Abermagwr: Villa finds go on display in Ceredigion Museum

 A new exhibition of Roman finds from Abermagwr villa has opened to the public at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth.   The discovery, including part of the earliest known slate roof in Ceredigion, has radically altered archaeologist’s understanding of Romano-British life in the region.
Reconstruction of Abermagwr Roman Villa by Toby Driver. The coins discovered at the site of the late – Roman villa near Aberystwyth date from the fourth century AD. NPRN: 405315.

Until quite recently no Romano-British villas were known in Mid and West Wales, and the only archaeological evidence for Roman activity in the area came from military sites such as forts and encampments.  However all that changed during summer  2006 when aerial survey work by the Royal Commission identified a potential Romano-British villa from cropmarks in a field near Abermagwr.  Geophysical survey followed by excavations in 2010 and 2011 confirmed what the archaeologists had suspected— that a previously unknown villa lay under the fields of Abermagwr.

The excavation in 2011 of the newly-discovered Roman villa at Abermagwr. NPRN: 405315.

Roman villas were the high-status homes of wealthy landowners and the centre of, controlling a farmland estate.  Situated within a large rectangular enclosure with a neatly cobbled yard, the villa at Abermagwr is relatively modest in size.  The building had a main block, the domus, with three main rooms measuring 22m east-west and 8m north-south, a verandah, and two projecting alae or wings on the southern side.  A small room measuring 5m x 4m was added later to the rear of the building.  However it is the villa’s unusual location that makes it so important for our understanding of Romano-British Wales.   Most villas in Wales are concentrated in the south-east, with a few outliers in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and one in the middle reaches of the Usk Valley.  The discovery of a villa in Ceredigion demonstrates that the favourable social and economic conditions must have existed that were necessary to support the construction of such a large estate.

The finds from the villa paint a vivid picture of Romano-British life in Abermagwr.  Although no mosaics have been discovered at the villa, the building had an elaborate decorative slate roof – the earliest known slate roof in the county.  As well as locally produced pots, bowls and platters, the villa had used Roman vessels from production centres across England including the Malvern Hills, Poole Harbour, Dorset, and Oxfordshire.  There were also fragments of fine red Samian ware from Gaul (southern France) and sherds from a southern Spanish amphorae used to transport olive oil.  Coinage included a Roman bronze coin of Emperor Constantine I minted in Lyon, France, in AD 314-5, and a denarius of Severus Alexander minted in Rome c.AD 224.  These finds demonstrate the thriving trade links that must have existed between Ceredigion and the rest of the Roman world during the 2nd to 4th centuries AD.  There are also finds of a more personal nature, including a fragment of a fine glass drinking vessel, probable gaming counters, and a brick with a dog paw print, evidently made whilst the brick was still drying out.  The unexpected discovery of the Abermagwr villa also raises the tantalising question: are there more Romano-British villas waiting to be found in the region?

The new Abermagwr villa exhibition at Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth.

Some of the Abermagwr villa artefacts, including part of the earliest known slate roof in the county, on display at Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth.
Dr Toby Driver will be leading a talk entitled ‘Druids, Romans and Death: Exploring the Treasures of the Bowen Gallery at Ceredigion Museum’ on Thursday 23 July at 11am, as part of the Festival of British Archaeology. Contact the Royal Commission on 01970 621200 for more details or to book a place.

Further information and contact details:

The Abermagwr villa  can be found on the Royal Commissions’ online database, . The Internet can be searched for ‘Abermagwr villa’.

Alternatively, contact one of the discoverers and excavators, Toby Driver on 01970 621207 or

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