In 1963, a British blacksmith discovered a massive, nearly complete Roman mosaic pavement at Hinton St Mary in the region of Dorset. It was considered one of a kind, with a pristine portrait of Jesus Christ at its center, until recently, when a second mosaic was unearthed at the site.
The second mosaic was found in a Roman building during a new round of excavations commissioned by the British Museum. It features a black, white, and red tesserae, however the design has badly suffered from centuries of ploughing the farmland. Archaeologists also unearthed thousands of everyday objects from the site, such as jewelry, coins, roof tiles, and kiln fire bricks.
Both this mosaic and the previously discovered one date to the 4th century, during the late Roman occupation. They have been attributed to a workshop in Durnovaria, in what is now the town of Dorchester.
The first mosaic covered two rooms joined by a decorated threshold. The larger of the rooms displayed a male figure in a white pallium before the Greek letters for X and P (chi and rho). That figure was flanked by pomegranates.
The panel in the smaller room depicts the Greek hero Bellerophon striding atop a pegasus towards a chimera. The larger, prized portrait of the male figure was lifted and transported to the British Museum, which commissioned Vianova Archeology to undertake the excavations with support from Struminster’s Yewstock School.
“Scholars have suggested the figure in the centre of the larger room is one of the earliest representations of Jesus Christ from the ancient world, and probably the first to be placed on a mosaic,” Vianova said in its report. The mosaic could also depict Constantine I, the first Roman emperor to have used the chi and rho, researchers continued.
Both excavations have proposed a new function for the site, which was believed for decades to have been a farmhouse or villa. Researchers now propose it served a religious purpose for the region’s small Christian community, such as monastic lodgings or a shrine.