1811 Clue Finds Roman Villa

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A ROMAN villa has been discovered in Wales, and could change historians' understanding of the Empire.

Two hundred years ago the famous Pembrokeshire anti-quarian Richard Fenton claimed to have discovered a Roman villa in the county.

However, his published account was largely ignored. Fenton, after all, had been known to be wrong before. And it was commonly accepted for many years that the Romans had never ventured so far west.

But more recent archaeological discoveries have suggested that the Roman influence in Pembrokeshire was greater than previously thought.

The archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler uncovered a small Roman fort near Ambleston in 1921 and a Roman villa was discovered at Amroth, on the border with Carmarthenshire, in the early 1950s.

More recently the traces of a Roman road heading west from the Roman regional centre at Carmarthen (Moridunum) to as far as Wiston, near Haverfordwest, have been discovered.

And now, almost two centuries after Fenton's account, a Roman villa appears to have been discovered in the very place he pinpointed all those years ago.

In a story worthy of Indiana Jones himself, Pembrokeshireborn archaeologist Dr Mark Merrony has followed Fenton's footsteps and found the remains of a large rectangular Roman building near the village of Wolfscastle.

The discovery could change our understanding of the Roman presence in Wales and certainly suggests that their influence over this remote part of Wales was much greater than once thought.

``The finding is important because Pembrokeshire has not been recognised as having a Roman presence,'' Dr Merrony said yesterday.

``It puts Roman Pembrokeshire on the map and suggests that the Romans came as far as the west coast of Wales.''

Dr Merrony's quest to find the Roman villa began when, as a young boy growing up in Tenby, he first read Fenton's account of his claim in his Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire.

In the work the historian, who counted leading 18th Century figures such as Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson among his friends, stated that he had been told that a labourer had found Roman remains while working in a field near Wolfscastle.

Fenton, who lived at Fishguard, went to examine them for himself and concluded that a Roman villa, complete with bath, had once existed on the site.

Dr Merrony, who specialises in the history of the Roman provinces of the eastern Mediterranean, set out earlier this year to discover whether there was any truth in his boyhood reading. ``I wondered if there was a villa there and whether I could find it,'' he said. ``It was a bit of a long shot.''

Exploring the area close to the village, he came across the remains of distinct hexagonal Roman roofing tiles in a hedge close to where Fenton had described his villa almost two centuries ago.

Returning later with an Oxford colleague, who special-ises in archaeogeophysics, they discovered the ruins of a large rectangular building about 65ft long and 28ft wide under the ground.

Two weeks ago, after getting permission from the local authority and landowner, he returned for a third time, along with a party of volunteers, for a preliminary dig.

``We dug down vertically and almost immediately we were straight on to the paving of a building,'' he said.

``We were on the inside of the building's floor. They were massive slabs about 3ft by 2ft - almost like crazy paving and very similar to the excavation report at Amroth.

``I also found what I think was some 2nd to 4th Century po t t ery.

``It was so exciting. Before the excavation I could not sleep for four nights. I kept thinking of what the geophysical survey had found.

``When we got down to the paving of the building it was like hitting the jackpot.''

Dr Merrony said the build-ing appears to have been a Romanised farmstead, not uncommon in England and other parts of Wales, but extremely rare in Pembrokeshire. …