1. The larger mosaic found at Uzès has an animal in each corner – a deer, a duck, an owl and an eagle.

Discovering the 'lost city' of Ucetia

While carrying out excavation work prior to the building of a new boarding school in Uzès (Gard), a team from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) unearthed some fine mosaics and the remains of two buildings. They were traces of the Roman city of Ucetia, which gave its name to the modern town. Until now, historians only knew of the existence of Ucetia because it is mentioned in an inscription on a Roman stela in Nîmes. A few fragments of ancient mosaic had been discovered in the past, but the 'lost city' had remained elusive.

The vast (4,000-sqm) excavation site revealed numerous other features dating from the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD, and some medieval features. A strong wall and masonry work, dating from just after the Roman conquest, have already been cleared, including a room with a bread oven which was later replaced by a dolium, a large earthenware container.

2. Two fine Roman mosaics were unearthed.

A huge (250-sqm) building made up of four rooms and facing south has been excavated; its colonnade suggests that it was a public building. Two of the rooms had cement floors and walls decorated with painted plaster. At one end of the building, a room with mosaic tesserae imbedded in a mortar floor (opus signinum) opens onto a 60-sqm room containing two spectacular mosaics. These are made up of continuous bands of geometric motifs of meanders and waves framing two central medallions composed of crowns, rays and chevrons. One of the medallions is surrounded by four polychrome animals: a deer, a duck, an owl and an eagle. Such mosaics usually date from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, but these are estimated to be some 200 years older.

This particular site was probably in use until the end of the 1st century AD, and was later partially concreted over and the adjoining road outside given extra height.

3. A wave motif curls elegantly along one of several decorative borders.

Another 500-sqm building has been cleared; it could be a house (domus), in which a number of dolia have been found, an indication that wine-making was an important activity in the region. In one of the rooms, the floor has a square mosaic with dolphin motifs, and the adjacent room has hypocaust underfloor heating.

The building underwent successive transformations and was in use until the 7th century. A coin dating from the 4th century and shards from the entire period, from the 3rd to the 7th centuries, have been found in the demolition layers.

4. Detail showing an exquisite spotted deer in one corner of the mosaic.

The structures uncovered by researchers are believed to have stood inside the walls of the ancient city of Utecia. The complex organisation of communication routes and the layout of the buildings suggest that this site was the centre of the Roman town.

Led by Philippe Cayn, the INRAP team is working against the clock on the site, as the dig is due to be completed by autumn of this year when the construction of the school will begin.

The stunning 60-sqm mosaic floor has been carefully lifted and transported to Nîmes to be studied, cleaned and restored. It will be returned to Uzès in due course to be displayed in a place as yet to be decided.

• For further information see www.inrap.fr
Nicole Benazeth