Fishbourne at 50
Celebrating half a century at a unique Roman palace above The Fishbourne excavations of 1961-1969 uncovered the remains of an impressive Roman palace, adorned with elaborate mosaics.
This month marks 50 years since Fishbourne Roman Palace, one of the great archaeological discoveries of the 1960s, opened its doors to the public. The site continues to hold wide appeal for visitors and researchers alike. Here, Betina Blake and Katrina Burton explore how our understanding of the Roman structures has evolved, and how the anniversary is being celebrated.
Given how influential its discovery would prove, it is remarkable to remember that Fishbourne Roman Palace was found quite by chance, uncovered in 1960 by contractors for the Portsmouth Water Company who were digging a trench to lay a new water main. During the course of their work, in a field near Chichester, West Sussex, they uncovered substantial wall foundations and the unmistakable traces of a mosaic floor. Luckily, this was enough to halt the work and bring in the archaeologists, so that the Roman finds could be explored in greater detail.
The site’s archaeological potential became abundantly clear during a trial excavation carried out over Easter 1961 under the direction of Barry Cunliffe (see p.33) – then still an undergraduate at Cambridge University – aided by
Margaret Rule (1928-2015; she would go on to be the first curator of the Fishbourne Museum, and later was lead archaeologist during the raising of Tudor flagship the Mary Rose in 1982.) Subsequent excavations that summer uncovered an astonishing array of building remains, representing some 22 rooms and eight mosaic floors. This was only the North Wing of a much larger complex, dating to the iety l Soc ica log rchaeo
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