From Aldi to Ancient Rome: supermarket construction uncovers priceless mosaic in Milton Keynes

A team of archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology have uncovered an “intricate” Roman mosaic at the site of a new supermarket in Olney near Milton Keynes. The archaeology team has deemed the mosaic “archaeological remains of high significance“.  

Whilst preparing for the construction of a new branch of Aldi, the developer company Angle Property realised it was closely located to the excavated Roman Site at Olney, an existing settlement protected by Heritage England. Anthony Williamson, executive director of Angle, said the find had “taken us all by surprise” after a commissioned exploratory dig unearthed the spectacular remains of a two thousand year old complex.  

Due to the site’s location we anticipated some notable Roman remains, but the discovery of this fantastic mosaic far exceeded those expectations,” said John Boothroyd, senior project manager at Oxford Archaeology. “To be able to preserve remains of this quality and importance is a brilliant outcome.”  

The brickwork mosaic is made up of “vibrant colours and intricate decorative patterns“, including red, white, and blue tiles. It is particularly well-preserved around the borders. According to British mosaics expert David Neal, the design could have been produced by the Durobrivan group, an ancient mosaic school hailing from the east Midlands.  

Archaeologists believe there could also be the remains of an entire Roman villa and bath complex on the site, due to the discovery of several stone structures that are thought to be cisterns once used for water collection. But this could not be fully investigated because the remains extend under the already built-up areas of Warrington Road.  

Olney has a rich history of archaeology dating back to the Roman occupation of Britain in the first century AD. The area of Milton Keynes thrived during this time, taking advantage of the nearby major Roman roadIter II. Roman mosaics were a popular form of decorative art across the ancient Roman Empire as a way of displaying the patron’s wealth and status.   Following consultations with Historic England and Milton Keynes Council, Oxford Archaeology have preserved the mosaic in situ with a special protective material. This will allow Aldi’s construction to continue without causing further damage. The exciting new finds will be recorded and eventually published.

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