Residents of the French town of Uzès have passed down folklore that their town was once an important ancient Roman city, but definitive archaeological proof of such a settlement had never been discovered. The only evidence of a major Roman establishment nearby was a 1st-century aqueduct featuring a 48.8 m (160 ft) high bridge span the Gardon River. That changed in October 2016 when civil engineers broke ground outside of Uzès to build a boarding school and discovered remains of a wall, pottery, and a bread oven. Upon further excavation, archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) came across a stunning 4,000-meter-square (43,000 sqft) site containing some of the most surprising finds in recent Roman archaeology.
When researchers unearthed a large room within a colonnade, they discovered a massive square of pavement covered in an intricate mosaic. The building housing the mosaic covers 2,700 square feet (250 square meters), implying this mosaic was likely in a public gathering place or by a rich individual to flaunt his or her wealth.
INRAP team leader Philippe Cayn told the IB Times that the impeccable mosaic is made even more awe-inspiring due to the fact that it’s one of the earliest known of its kind:
This mosaic is very impressive because of its large size, its good state of conservation and the motifs which combine classical geometric shapes and with animals. This kind of elaborate mosaic pavement is often found in the Roman world in the 1st and 2nd centuries, but this one dates back to about 200 years before that, so this is surprising.
The mosaic depicts tessellations of geometric shapes, classic Roman motifs, and an odd combination of four animals: an owl, an eagle, a fawn, and a duck. The reasons for the particular combination of animals is unknown. Whatever the reason, the mosaic would have only been used for 300 to 400 years, because the city was abandoned at some point in the third or fourth century AD and archaeologists still are not sure why.