Start digging around in the backyard and you're liable to unearth rusted bottle caps, utility pipes, or maybe a long-forgotten toy. Luke Irwin, on the other hand, discovered the remains of a lavish Roman villa on his property in Wiltshire, England, the Independent reports. The residence, built nearly 2,000 years ago, "was the country house of a powerful, rich Roman," archaeologist David Roberts tells the Guardian. Irwin and his wife, who recently moved to the property with their children, had decided to add lights to their barn so they could play table tennis at night. Though electricians suggested overhead lines, the couple opted to bury them, and workers hit a hard layer about 18 inches down. It proved to be pieces of mosaic. Irwin, who designs "luxury rugs for the Roman aristocrats of today," says he knew right away it was a significant find.
"Fortunately," he recalls, "we were able to stop the workmen just before they began to wield pickaxes." Irwin contacted Historic England, and archaeologists rushed to the property to begin an excavation. Calling the site "hugely valuable," Roberts tells the Guardian the discovery "is unparalleled in recent years and it gives us a perfect opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain." It's not just the size of the building, believed to be three stories, that indicates it was the home of an important Roman: It's the stuff scientists have found along with the house—discarded oyster shells, for instance, which would have been imported from the coast. "High-status pottery," coins, and the mosaic flooring itself all point to wealth. Also discovered was a child-sized coffin made of stone. (Remains unearthed in Germany point to a massive Bronze Age battle.)