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What Proved 'Good Luck' For Channel 4's Time Team at a Scheduled Monument in Gloucestershire?

Turkdean Roman Villa
Cotswold district, Gloucestershire

Scheduled: 2012
NHLE entry: Listing details for Turkdean Roman Villa

An aerial photograph of the Turkdean Villa site, showing the distinct outline of the villa in ‘parch marks’
An aerial photograph of the Turkdean Villa site, showing the distinct outline of the villa in ‘parch marks’

Turkdean Roman Villa is in Gloucestershire, an area with a rich and fascinating archaeological history. The buildings were first documented in 1800, when its remains had survived above ground for nearly 1,500 years. Then the visible remains disappeared and it was more or less forgotten.

One dry summer in 1976, an amateur archaeologist flew over the site and saw the distinct outline of a villa in 'parch marks' in the field. The TV archaeology series Time Team and Cotswold Archaeology investigated the site in 1997. There was so much interest from the public and so many indications of potential finds that they returned a year later. Both visits turned out to be very lucky indeed! In Time Team's initial investigations, a geophysical survey confirmed the outline of the villa, and excavation provided evidence of occupation from the 2nd to the 4th century AD. Even though only a few small areas were excavated, many artefacts were found, including glass, coins, jewellery, a hammer head and many pieces of Roman pottery, together with box tiles used in the construction of hypocausts (heating systems for bathhouses), tesserae (the little stone cubes in mosaic floors) and animal bones.

A close up of the 'Good Luck' knee brooch with inscription
A close up of the 'Good Luck' knee brooch with inscription – a still from the Turkdean Time Team Retrospective. © Channel 4.

A home or a sanctuary?

Turkdean is situated near a spring, and is just 12 miles from Cirencester, the second biggest Roman city in England. With the Roman-built Fosse Way running just 2 miles from Turkdean, the villa's location suggests that its inhabitants perhaps worked in that city, which the Romans called Corinium, or at least commuted to there regularly. It was also a very large villa: to this day, it remains one of the biggest Romano-British complexes to have been found in the UK. It had a total of three large courtyards, as well as a number of outbuildings and yards. One of the most interesting surviving parts of the building was the luxurious painted bathhouse with under-floor heating, in the centre of the complex. The existence of this, and of the nearby spring and remains of other structures close to that, actually cast doubt that the building was a villa at all. Instead, it could have been a religious sanctuary. As the Romans considered water to have highly spiritual qualities, most of their sanctuaries had baths as a central feature. Whether the building was a villa or a religious complex, it seems that it was abandoned at some point after AD 360. The excavations uncovered a floor dug into the rubble of the villa with a furnace sunk into it, suggesting that the site was partially used for metal working some time after the Romans left.

An illustration of the Turkdean Villa brooch, inscribed with ‘VTERE FELIX’
An illustration of the brooch, inscribed with 'VTERE FELIX'. © Gail Stoten and R S O Tomlin.

Good luck to the wearer

The first mini-series of Time Team's programmes shot at Turkdean comprised the UK's first-ever archaeological excavation televised live over three days. One unforgettable moment was the discovery of an enamelled bronze brooch inscribed with 'VTERE FELIX'. Also written as 'UTERE FELIX' or 'UTI FELIX', this can be translated as 'GOOD LUCK TO THE WEARER'. This motto was one of the most common inscriptions on valuable items in the later Roman period in Britain. They were worn particularly by wealthy citizens - male and female - who believed that talismans such as inscribed jewellery, spoons and belts were imbued with spiritual power. Items like these may even have been flung into sacred springs or rivers as good luck offerings to the gods. In 2012, the Turkdean site became a scheduled monument and is now protected as a key example of a Roman villa, one that offers archaeologists valuable information about the development of houses - or religious sanctuaries - and associated objects. A 'retrospective' of the three-day Time Team Live excavations at Turkdean was screened in January 1998 (Series 5, Episode 4). Not only can you watch this, but you can explore more Time Team discoveries by visiting the Channel 4 website.

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