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Dig uncovers giant mosaic with animals

Discovery is first evidence of Roman town that gave its name to Uzès and it is open for visits this weekend

Archaeologists have uncovered huge mosaics and the remains of public buildings as the first real view into the past of the Roman town of Ucetia, which gave its name to Uzès in Gard.

Two mosaics covering about 100m2 feature large-scale, continuous geometric motifs with a centre medallion surrounded by a deer, duck, owl and eagle. The site covers about 4,000m2 that was being prepared for the building of a boarding school.

Until the discovery, historians only knew of the existence of Ucetia from an inscription in Nîmes but now they have a site that dates from the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD, with some features from the Middle Ages.

The site beside the old gendarmerie will be open for guided visits this weekend with workers from the archeological protection institute Inrap. However, plans are being laid for the mosaics and other articles to be lifted next month.

Archaeologists will make a detailed study of the site and dismantle all the above ground sections for later investigation. The dig is due to be completed by autumn this year and the school will be built by 2019.

The Roman conquest was in the late 2nd century BC and the mosaics themselves are surprising as they are more typical of work about 200-300 years later, although some parts of the site are from before the conquest, including a room with a bread oven.

Philippe Cayn, of Inrap, said this was probably from when Romans first arrived to quarry limestone and the site was possibly in use for only 200-300 years before it was partially concreted over and the road outside given extra height.

It is at a crossroad of Gallo-Roman routes and the site itself was probably in the centre of Ucetia.

The largest mosaic is in a 60m2 room in a 250m2 building with a south-facing colonnade at the front and possibly a public building that later became a house.

It is made up of four rooms in a row with two having concrete floors and painted walls. One room has a mortar floor with mosaic tesserae.

Another 500m2 building, possibly a house, contained large earthenware dolia vases which showed that winemaking was important in the area. The floor has a square mosaic with dolphin motifs and an adjacent room has hypocaust underfloor heating. This building was in use until the 7th century.

This weekend 15min guided visits will be open from 10.00-12.15 and 14.00-17.15 but first-come, first served. There will also be activities for children.

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