ARCHAEOLOGISTS have begun a dig at the site of a "remarkable" Roman villa discovered in Rossett.

The villa, which is thought to be around two thousand years old, is the first of its kind to have been discovered in north east Wales and archaeologists are excited to unearth more information about the nature of Roman settlement in this area.

It is thought to date from the early first century to the mid fourth century, judging by the artefacts discovered so far. This was the majority of the period of Roman occupation in Britain.

The villa, which is believed to be at the grander end as Roman villas go, has been unearthed on farmland in Rossett and its discovery is set to inform understanding of Roman north east Wales and north west England.

The dig is being carried out jointly by Wrexham Museum, the University of Chester and Archaeology Survey West, with the project being led by Dr Caroline Pudney, an archaeology lecturer from the University of Chester and Steve Grenter from Wrexham Museum.

The Leader: Dr Caroline Pudney with a piece of Roman pottery unearthed in Rossett Dr Caroline Pudney with a piece of Roman pottery unearthed in Rossett

Fragments of pottery

It has just begun and will run throughout September, with archaeologists having already uncovered a thick wall where the main corridor of the villa would have been, along with artefacts such as tiles, stone, fragments of pottery and some animal bone which was thought to be from the occupants' meals.

The Leader: One of the walls of the Roman villa in RossettOne of the walls of the Roman villa in Rossett

The villa also includes a variety of rooms around the main corridor and it is believed to have belonged to an extended Roman family, possibly even a retired Roman soldier from nearby Chester as they were sometimes given land to retire to. Experts believe that there may well have also been a Roman road nearby, with links to nearby Chester. There is also believed to be evidence of trackways and other related buildings and structures on site.

Rossett Pig

The discovery of the villa was prompted when metal detectorist, Rob Jones from Coedpoeth found a rare Roman lead ingot - now known as the Rossett Pig - during his exploration of nearby countryside around two years ago.

Rob Jones said he was delighted to have uncovered the lead ingot which sparked off this important find.

He alerted archaeologists who confirmed that this was a Roman artefact and the ingot is now with the British Museum for further investigation. It is set to return to Wrexham Museum in future.

A farmer on nearby land also unearthed some evidence of Roman settlement when he ploughed one of his fields and this led experts to conduct a geophysical survey of that area, which then revealed the outline of the villa.

Dr Caroline Pudney said she was thrilled to be working on this "remarkable find" and thanked the farmer who owns the land in question for his generosity in allowing them to dig up his field and even working flat out over the Bank Holiday weekend to cut his crops so it was easier for the dig to take place.

Dr Pudney added: "With this being the first Roman villa of its kind structurally attested in north east Wales, it is a really exciting excavation to be overseeing.

"In fact, very few Roman villas have been identified in north west England, north Wales and the Marches, particularly when compared with the central belt of England and south Wales. However, this project points to more substantial activity and dwellings existing in this area than previously understood.

"We look forward to challenging and adding to our knowledge of the area during the Roman period, alongside our colleagues from Wrexham Museum, and giving our students, local schools and the wider community opportunities to be part of this history-changing project."

Links to army in Chester

She explained what else they hoped to get out of the dig, saying: "This villa was domestic accommodation and we expect to find more evidence of domestic life here, such as bits of pottery and maybe even copper jewellery. There are a series of field boundaries here and trackways and we are hoping that archaeology will be able to tell us that this was a farm. We'll be looking for grain-rich deposits and we might get evidence of animal processing. We have found a piece of animal bone, which looks like cow or sheep, and the level of preservation here is quite good.

"One of the main questions we have is whether there are any links between this find and the supply of the army in Chester. Quite a lot of soldiers were granted land when they retired."

Dr Pudney said she thought the Rossett Pig may have ended up in a location away from the site as someone may have tried to steal it, but it was so heavy they left it for safe keeping and then it was swallowed up by the boggy land beneath.

The geophysics on the site was carried out by archaeologist Chris Matthews.

Also on site for the begining of the dig was Cellan Harston, from Roman Tours in Chester, who was wearing the sort of clothing that would have been worn by someone living in such a villa during Roman times.

Roman period

Local councillor Hugh Jones said: "I think this is really exciting. There is still so much to learn about life in our part of Wales during the Roman period. Hopefully this dig, as well as other recent finds in the area such as the Rossett Pig, will shed new light on how we lived during that period.

"There is probably the potential for this to even predate some of what is available in Chester in terms of the Roman period."

Further excavations set to take place this month will seek to find out more about what are presumed to be either a shrine or mausoleum and a bathhouse on the site.

Project leaders have recruited archaeology students from the University of Chester and local schoolchildren who will be joining the dig to help them on Tuesday, September 7.

The dig ends on September 25, but archaeologists hope to able to return over the next few years, subject to securing funding, since there is so much to explore.

Funding for the dig has come from the Roman Research Trust and through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

An open day is set to take place at the site of the Roman villa, which is on private land, on Saturday, September 18. This will be a free event but it will be ticketed. Site tours will also be available for pre-booked groups. More information will be available soon via the news section of the Wrexham Council website -  https://news.wrexham.gov.uk/.

Phil Hirst from the University of Chester is also working with Dr Pudney to produce video updates from the dig. For these and other regular updates, use the hashtag #RomanRossett or #YrOrseddRafeinig on Twitter and Instagram.