In light of its rarity and importance, Britain's Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Thursday granted the mosaic the country's oldest form of heritage protection. It is now a scheduled monument, which makes it a criminal offense for anyone to go digging around the site or even metal-detecting.
“By protecting this site we are able to continue learning from it, and look forward to what future excavations may teach us about the people who lived there over 1,500 years ago,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England.
The mosaic in the county of Rutland was found by Jim Irvine, whose father Brian Naylor owns the land, in the midst of last year's lockdown during excavations of an elaborate villa complex made up of a host of structures and other buildings. Irvine then notified the authorities, leading to an excavation by the university's archaeological team.
He described how what started as “a ramble through the fields with the family” led to the “incredible discovery."
“The last year has been a total thrill to have been involved with,” he said.
The archaeologists discovered remains of the mosaic, measuring 11 meters (36 feet) by almost 7 meters (22.9 feet). Human remains were also discovered in the rubble covering the mosaic and are thought to have been interred after the building was no longer occupied.
The dig, which remains on private land, has now been back-filled to protect the site and work will continue to potentially turn over the field to grassland to lower the risk of future damage from ploughing.
There's little time for the team at the university to rest up following their latest excavation success. In January, they are due to start digging near Leicester Cathedral, in what is expected to be the city's deepest ever excavation, in the hope of finding long-lost treasures from medieval times and ancient times.
The team is best-known for its search of the lost grave of Richard III, which began in August 2012. In February of the following year, the university announced that they had found the remains of England's last Plantagenet king and the last English monarch to have died on the battlefield. He died in 1485.