Butser mosaic update – Easter 2019

The Butser Ancient Farm Roman Villa mosaic project has reached a significant milestone – the final tessera of the geometric border has been laid!

Easter mosaic laying final tesserae

Easter mosaic laying final tesserae2Since we resumed work this month the team has made enormous progress, laying almost as much of the floor area in two weeks as we did in two months last year. In part that’s because our mosaicists are now experts in their professions, and partly because a lot of our work over the past week or two has been in the border – with much larger tesserae (tiles) and no tricky pattern to lay. But the other reason things have speeded up is that we had extra help from many, many of our visitors over the Easter break. People of all ages were down on their hands and knees helping us get the floor finished. The help was much appreciated and it seems like everyone had an absolute ball doing it – a real win-win!


As well as being a really nice, authentic floor covering for our villa, the mosaic was a piece of experimental archaeology. It has provided us with some interesting insights into the process of mosaic making, using quite authentic techniques. In keeping with that authentic experimental approach, we have also included the initials of each one of our mosaicists in the border of the design. Now, we can’t say for certain that any Roman-British mosaicist did this, but there are lots of ‘mistakes’ in mosaics around the country, which look rather obvious, even deliberate. Some people think that these are sort of ‘coded’ messages by the makers to say ‘I did this’. In keeping with this secretive approach, we have hidden the initials in plain sight – with subtle shifts of pattern which are not easy to spot. Once we have opened the mosaic fully for public view you might enjoy a game of spot the mosaicist!


We still have a little more to finish off but it is all very simple to lay from here forward, so we’re hoping to have it all done by the end of May. That means we will have a fully redecorated triclinium, ready to welcome the Emperor, and all of our visitors!

Butser Roman mosaic website launch!

To celebrate the installation of our unique, replica mosaic in the recently renovated Roman villa, we are excited to announce that we’ve developed a free, online education resource aimed at years 3 and 4 explaining all about the art of mosaic making!

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This resource is designed to help teachers and students to better understand the process of making mosaics, and their importance as a means of display. The website is designed to guide teachers and their pupils through the mosaic making process with step-by-step guides, teacher resources, and suggested class activities.

The mosaic floor in the Butser Roman villa is a volunteer project, kindly part-funded by a grant from South Downs National Park Sustainable Communities Fund, that started last year to install a hand-laid, close reproduction of the 4th century AD mosaic floor that graced the original Sparsholt villa, that the Butser Ancient Farm villa is based on. The project is part of a larger initiative to refurbish the villa and enhance it as a living representation of 4th century Roman Britain.

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The Butser mosaic will be completed during this coming Easter period and visitors to the site will be invited to come and help install some of the final tesserae tiles! (weekdays from Tuesday 9th April to Thursday 18th April, sessions between 11am -12pm and 1pm till 2pm)

While aimed principally at years 3 – 4,  the fun, visual resource is available as a free resource for anyone to enjoy. You can find the website here; www.butserromanmosaic.wordpress.com

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Ancient crops, strange fungus and witchcraft.

A guest post by Dom Price, Species Recovery Trust, on the experiments at Butser Ancient Farm.

Ancient crops, strange fungus and witchcraft.

Butser ancient farm is a key site forming part of a project to re-introduce two species of now extinct plants. Darnel and upright goosefoot were both a relatively common site in ancient farming systems before the introduction of modern agriculture, including the widespread use of herbicide and improvements in seed cleaning technology which allowed all ‘weed’ species to be removed before seeds were re-sown. Both of these plants vanished from mainland Britain over two decades ago, and Darnel is now hanging on a knife edge on the Arran Isles off the west coast of Ireland. Continue reading

Grand Saxon Designs

Grand Saxon Designs


We already have one Saxon house at Butser Ancient Farm based on local archaeological evidence. It was built by treewright Darren Hammerton in 2016. Now he’s working on a second house from the same site, built with different techniques.


Treewrighting is the ancient process of taking timber from source through to manufactured wooden item. It pre-dates modern power tools by thousands of years, and treewrighting involves the use of familiar tools, such as chisels and axes, as well as less familiar wood-working equipment like adzes and specialist axes.

This summer Darren is running a series of workshops to teach aspiring treewrights some of the ancient techniques and crafts needed to build Saxon houses.These workshops will run at the same time as the second Saxon hall house reconstruction, so participants can get close to and, in some cases, involved in an exciting archaeological reconstruction programme.


We’ll start with making Saxon bulwark walls, which are horizonal timber slats set into recessed grooves in timber uprights. Darren will also teach the treewrighting techniques to build a Saxon roof truss and a Saxon har-hung door, a door hinged without metalwork. There will also be a wattle hurdle workshop which are used for a bed for the roof thatch.

If you want to prepare for your own Saxon grand design, this summer is your chance to learn the treewrighting techniques you’ll need.



You can book the workshops on the website at: http://www.butserancientfarm.co.uk/treewrighting-workshops/