The Domestic Area team, led by Inge Uytterhoeven and Nele Goeminne, continued excavating Room XL this week. This room, in the southeast corner of the large late Roman to early Byzantine palatial mansion, was possibly a large dining room. As we found in the eastern side of the room (see August 10-16), only the northern part has been preserved. However, we discovered another wall just west of the westernmost square niche in the room's north wall. This helped us identify a new room (Room XLIII) west of Room XL and south of space XLII. The north-south running wall has a recess that forms the northern part of a door opening. Although the corresponding southern area has completely disappeared, we assume the southern wall also had two square niches flanking a central semi-circular niche. Therefore, Room XL must have had a width of about 6.2 meters and a length of more than 12 meters, as its northern wall still continues in the eastern profile of our excavation area. These dimensions fit in with its identification as a formal dining room. The rich fresco decoration and the fact that this space was once covered with mosaics (see July 27-August 2) seem to corroborate this assumption.
This week we also further explored the large courtyard complex (see August 10-16) by excavating Room XXI to its floor level. This small space (2.40 m by 2.60 m), already partly excavated in 2000, originally formed the northern part of the central north-south arcade leading to fountain building XIX. It was later transformed into a separate room accessible from Room XXXIX to the south. The cobblestone pavement and a brick pillar in the northwest corner similar to those found in the other areas of the courtyard attest the room's original function. We removed two layers on top of the floor level, and the large amount of separate tesserae and mosaic fragments we found was most striking. The layer on top of the cobble floor also contained a remarkable amount of material--ceramics, an oil lamp, tesserae, bone, glass, and metal.
In space XLII, the corridor south of courtyard XIII, we completely uncovered the purple slabs and three steps of the staircase leading to the first floor we found last week (see August 10-16). Two coins were found on top of the slabs; one dates to A.D. 425-457, the other to the fourth or fifth century. Now that the central courtyard system has been exposed, the enormous size of the villa complex--already counting 43 rooms--has become strikingly visible. Erosion on the complex's lower terraces may have caused part of the southern side to collapse. Some unexcavated rooms preserved to roof level will need to be investigated next year.