The present day small town and commune of Uzès in southern France is known for its tourism, wine-making and licorice production. But the name in itself harks back to ancient Ucetia, a Gallo-Roman oppidum (fortified settlement) that was primarily known in the annals of history from an inscription in Nîmes. That is until now, as INRAP (National Institute for Preventative Archaeology) archaeologists have been able to excavate remnants of public buildings and magnificent mosaic artworks that once bedecked ancient Ucetia. Covering an expansive area of 43,000 sq ft, the main site (possibly the center of Ucetia, at the crossroads of a Gallo-Roman route) flourished from 1st century BC to the 7th century AD, thus covering a historical spectrum ranging from ancient to early medieval times.
Within these parameters, the researchers were impressed by the sheer intricacy of two extensive mosaics that encompass an area of around 1,100 sq ft. Featuring typical geometrical motifs accompanied by depiction of animals like deer, duck, owl and eagle; the larger mosaic was found ‘inside’ a 2,700-sq ft Roman building. The archaeologists have hypothesized that this colonnaded structure was originally a public building that was later transformed into a Roman domus. This residential unit was composed of a flurry of spatial features, including four rooms – with two having concrete floors and painted walls, and another one boasting a mortar floor with rare mosaic tesserae.
Interestingly enough, when it comes to the historicity of the mosaics, researchers were surprised that their art styles diverged from the actual date of Roman conquest of the settlement in late 2nd century BC. In essence, the mosaics epitomize styles that were adopted around 200-300 years later. This was possibly because Romans initially only used the area to quarry limestone for around two to three centuries. However by 1st century AD, they began to settle in the zone, supported by improved infrastructure entailing use of concrete and better roads.
The archaeologists also uncovered a 5,400 sq ft building with a square mosaic that depicts dolphin motifs. The artwork is complemented by the fragments of large earthenware dolia vases (suggesting the historical scope of wine-making in the region) and ruins of an adjacent room with hypocaust underfloor heating. Given such ‘advanced’ architectural features, this particular structure was in usage till 7th century AD, long after the extinction of the Western Roman Empire.
And finally, as for the archaeological side of affairs, the researchers are looking forth to complete their project by autumn of this year. To that end, the archaeologists are planning to dismantle particular sections of the floor layers and the mosaics, in a bid to preserve and analyse them in a detailed manner at a later date.
Source: The Connexion / Image Credits: INRAP