A Roman mosaic being uncovered in a British shopping mall (all images courtesy Colchester Archaeological Trust)

From Julius Caesar to Orange Julius, an Ancient Roman mosaic has been uncovered at a shopping center in Colchester, Essex — the first Roman capital of Britain. The mosaic was first discovered while building the Red Lion Yard mall in 1988, but like many fragments of the Roman settlement in Britain, it was simply covered up due to a lack of resources to carry out a proper archaeological survey.

“We recorded it at the time (drew and plotted its precise location),” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told Hyperallergic. “It was then covered over.”

Workers on site to reveal the mosaic

The Colchester Borough Council and the Lion Walk Shopping Precinct have decided to reveal their hidden treasure after all these years, currently lurking beneath the pavement outside a vape shop. The plan, projected to be completed by the end of summer 2023, is to uncover the historic tilework as fully as possible and display it in situ beneath a layer of glass.

“On the two recent occasions when we revealed glimpses of the buried mosaic, as you can imagine there was a lot of public interest from the passersby,” said Crummy. The appeal of the mosaic as an attraction was not lost on the city council or the shopping center and triggered renewed efforts to safely uncover and display the tilework — a process hampered by the need to redirect modern services running above it, including a high-voltage power line.

As the oldest recorded town in Britain and the country’s first Roman city, Colchester is accustomed to having mosaics pop up during routine construction efforts. The archaeological trust has records of more than 40 mosaics discovered around the town over the years. One complete mosaic found and excavated in the 1970s is on display in the Colchester Castle Museum and yet another is on display at Firstsite Gallery.

“This a lot from just one town in Britain — possibly the most known from any of them,” said Crummy.

The current effort will likely only partially display the actual tile, as it is suspected that only the fragment that has already been revealed remains, but Crummy believes is it possible to reconstruct its overall plan and engrave the rest of the mosaic on the surface of the surrounding floor slabs. If all goes well, you can tell your friends to meet you at the mosaic the next time you want to go shopping in Colchester.

Close-up of the mosaic floor

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....