The remains of a high-status Roman villa and bath house, which may be the first of its kind ever discovered in the world, have been unearthed on a building site near Scarborough in North Yorkshire.
The astonishing find was made during archaeological excavations ahead of the construction of a housing development in the small town of Eastfield.
Archaeologists say the villa’s sheer size and complexity – it features a circular central room with other rooms leading off it – almost certainly indicate a stately home or some kind of religious sanctuary.
But they remain puzzled as to why something of such grandeur would have been built at what was one of the empire’s remotest outposts.
“This type of building layout has never been seen before in Britain and could even be the first of its kind to be discovered within the whole former Roman Empire,” said Keith Emerick, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England.
And he added: “We’ve spoken to a number of leading Roman academics about it and we’re all trying to find a comparable site and we are struggling. So in that sense it is really significant. It’s really exciting as well”.
Such is its importance that the layout of the new housing estate has now been redesigned by Keepmoat Homes to preserve the remains.
Karl Battersby, corporate director of business and environmental services at North Yorkshire County Council, said: “This is a remarkable discovery…
“Work by North Yorkshire archaeologists has already established the buildings were designed by the highest-quality architects in Northern Europe in the era and constructed by the finest craftsmen.
“There will be further work on the finds and environmental samples to try to establish exactly what this enigmatic site was and why it was created so far from other Roman centres.”