Progress on Salisbury’s new world-class Wessex Gallery of Archaeology at Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire which opens this summer, continued to gather pace this week with the installation of the first exhibit, the Downton Mosaic, a well-preserved mosaic floor which was part of a fourth century Roman villa. The intricately patterned mosaic, which will take three weeks to install in the gallery, was uncovered in the late 1950s on a new housing development in Moot Close, Downton, South Wiltshire.
“We believe this section of the mosaic came from the central room of the villa which may have been the dining room. The date of the objects found at the villa suggest it was built in the late third to early fourth century AD and remained in use for about 50 years,” explains Adrian Green, Salisbury Museum director. “The mosaic is made from tesserae - small cubes of stone and pottery laid closely together to form a pattern and the central design shows a drinking cup with a pair of handles shaped like dolphins. Considering its age, it’s in excellent condition. No other mosaics of this quality have been found in the Salisbury area.”
World Heritage gallery
The Downton Mosaic, is one of more than 2,000 items to be featured in the new £2.4 million Wessex Gallery which faces Salisbury Cathedral in The Close. The new archaeology gallery, will house one of England’s most extensive collections of Stonehenge and prehistoric artefacts including the recently discovered Amesbury Archer - popularly dubbed the ‘King of Stonehenge’. Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits within Salisbury Plain, an extremely rich archaeological area.
“The new gallery will bring the prehistory and history of Stonehenge and Wessex back to life,” says Adrian Green. “We’ll have some incredibly rare and exciting artefacts which have never been shown in public and fascinating displays which will give a wonderful insight into early Britain, from the mathematical genius of the ancient Britons and Beaker people through to the Roman invasion, the Norman Conquest and medieval Salisbury.”
The Wessex Gallery will comprise two former galleries at Salisbury Museum: the Pitt-Rivers Archeological Collection and the Early Man Gallery, which have been knocked through to form a single entity designed around the idea of ‘discovery’. It has received just under £1.8 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in recognition of the region’s internationally important archaeological findings. The gallery will replace the old Stonehenge, Pitt-Rivers and Early Man galleries which are now closed to the public.