Time Team find villa in Sharnbrook

Luton Today

A Roman villa has been unearthed by a local group of archaeologists with help from experts on the hit television series Time Team.

The Channel 4 programme’s expert squad of historians and surveyors visited Colworth Science Park in Sharnbrook for the new 2009 series of the show and, together with the Colworth Archaeological Society (CAS), made some surprising finds.

Archaeologists were able to confirm a grand villa complex once stood on the Colworth site and found evidence of high society, including coins, fragments of glass wine goblets and jewellery.

But the villa’s discovery began posing more questions than answers.
Loyd Wix, who works at Colworth Science Park and was a co-founder of CAS, became the star of the show, working alongside the Time Team regulars to unravel the mystery.

He said: “The site is very unusual for north Bedfordshire, posing the question as to why such a significant Roman building should be placed in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest major Roman road.

“Bedfordshire as a county is fairly poorly represented in terms of Roman finds compared with the likes of Northamptonshire, but we believe the reason Colworth is here is that it is the narrowest point between the Nene and Ouse Valleys and was important because of its preeminence to the rivers rather than the roads.”

The producers of Time Team contacted Bedfordshire County Council’s archaeological officer Martin Oake, who recommended the Sharnbrook site as a possible location for the programme.

Artefacts, including the only recorded find of a Roman false tooth made from a copper alloy, have been turning up around Colworth Science Park for the past century, but this is the first time a professional dig has been carried out.

The Time Team’s work concluded that a large stone villa approximately 20 by 20 metres was built on the site, with a number of wooden outbuildings.

Evidence of two Iron Age round houses was also uncovered, along with a large quantity of pre-historic pottery and worked flint, proving the site has been in use for more than 2,500 years.

Mr Wix added: “What was amazing about the dig was you had a whole group of people who did not know each other and yet in a short period of time were all contributing and working together. What started as organised chaos got a rhythm of its own.

“One of the questions still unanswered is what was the villa’s function? There were a lot of timber buildings in the complex that there was not time to explore and more fields we did not have time to dig.

“This building was there for a purpose, it was not just built because they wanted somewhere to live.”

Mr Wix added: “One probable function is it was the centre of operation for a much bigger estate. It could be where they collected taxes, which is why there were so many coins found.

“We also found perhaps the most impressive assemblage of Roman military fittings in Bedfordshire, with cavalry equipment from the early Roman period to equipment worn by militia when the empire fell apart.

“No matter which period of history you are interested in, we have archaeology to interest you.”

The CAS is now hoping to secure funding from organisations like the Heritage Lottery Fund to carry out further excavations on the site.

The Time Team episode, entitled The Mystery Of The Ice Cream Villa, because several members of CAS work in ice cream production, can be seen on Channel 4 on Sunday, February 22, at 5.40pm.

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