Kirk Sink Villa Mosaics

Kirk Sink Roman villa was discovered after a plough turned up a Roman mosaic floor in Gargrave. From then on excavations at the site proved that it possessed an extensive quantity of mosaic and tessellated flooring of various designs and styles. During the villa’s lengthy occupation its development and growth led to these mosaics also changing and developing.

The first Kirk Sink mosaic

The first mosaic discovered at the Kirk Sink site was of a chequered design and was unearthed through ploughing; it was first recorded in 1746 by Rauthmell but without any information on its location. This mysterious mosaic encouraged the further investigation of the site which took place in 1805 lead by Whitaker. It was only between 1968 and 1975 though with Hartley’s excavations at the site that more mosaics and tessellated flooring was discovered. After this excavation the chequered mosaic was suggested to be the flooring of the south east room in building B (bathhouse) but all that remained of the floor when excavated was white mosaic panels bordered by coarse tessellation. The tessellation is thought to have been added to replace its original more intricate chequered border following its original discovery in the 18th century, this is clear from the strong contrast in the preservation between this and the original mosaic.

Design

The flooring in Kirk Sink villa varied through time and in each room, the flooring in rooms of lesser importance within the villa had tessellated floors using large (around 20mm square) coarse cubes (tesserae) of plain red coloured ceramic. In contrast the best most important rooms had mosaic flooring which used smaller tesserae (5-10mm square) in complex designs and bright colours.

Many of the mosaic designs at Kirk Sink have complex intricate geometric patterns, such as that in the west room in building D where the design used dark grey, red, yellow and white tesserae. It consisted of a pattern of swastika-meander with double returns surrounding a right angled band of guilloche (two coloured ribbons winding around a series of regular central points) and a triangular panel remained in one corner suggesting at a possible octagonal central design. There is a strong suggestion that the entire design was enclosed by a red border of coarse tile tesserae. It is unclear how much of the site originally had mosaic flooring like this due to the development and growth during its occupation. 

Manufacture and development

The late third century AD brought developments and changes to the villa and meant the installation of a hypocaust heating system and new mosaic flooring in one of the main buildings. The mosaic design included a border design of Greek-key and guilloche pattern, this design is said to be similar to that of the Aldborough pavements in Norfolk  and it seems likely that the same or a similar firm of mosaicists were employed to do the work at Kirk Sink. These mosaicists used one of the smaller rooms at the back of the building for preparing the tesserae and cooking their food on a small hearth, this is evident from the ceramic waste, cooking pot and animal bone fragments. Due to the hypocaust system and the raised mosaic floor in the main room the rest of the flooring in the building also had to be replaced, the only remaining flooring excavated for these lesser rooms was the mortar base but from this it was deduced that there was originally a basic tessellated surface. Development of the Kirk Sink site led to many of the original tesserae from throughout the villa being reused in other mosaics or tessellated flooring.

Information compiled by Josie Ide.

Fragment of multi-coloured mosaic

Fragment of multi-coloured mosaic

Reconstruction of the mosaic design

Reconstruction of the mosaic design

A fragment of blue and white mosaic

A fragment of blue and white mosaic

Mosaics excavated at the villa site

Mosaics excavated at the villa site