September 23, 2018
The urgent call came to the archaeology department at Birmingham University, where I was an undergraduate. Some workers, digging a foundation for an industrial site in the western suburbs of the city had come across something that they thought might be old. Would we come? They did the right thing. They could easily have covered the entire site in concrete, and that would have hidden whatever lay beneath for another hundred years, or more. Of course, they also knew that if they were caught they would face a monumental fine, so maybe doing the right thing was motivated by fear of the consequences of doing the wrong thing!
It was a Roman villa. It didn’t take long to unearth the basic shape, which was familiar enough, but soon, evidence of tragedy began to emerge before our eyes. Archaeology students are a tough bunch; they have to be, kneeling in thick mud most days. As a result they tend to be loud and raucous. We were neither that day. The villa we slowly unearthed had been destroyed by fire. Red, Roman roof tiles had slithered down and become embedded in the mud. Interior walls were still blackened by sixteen hundred year old soot. The remnants of life lay, abandoned wherever they fell. Both life and livelihood had been destroyed in the flames. It was a sobering reminder of the frailty of human life and of the transitory nature of all that we hold dear.
Remember this? “Only one life, it soon will pass. Only what’s done for Christ will last”.