Maev Kennedy

Kent: A rare, complete set of 30 glass counters for a Roman board game has been set out again, more than 50 years since they were excavated and almost 1,700 years since they went into the tomb with their 20-something owner.

His skeleton is still in its scallop shell-decorated lead coffin. It is now surrounded again by the refreshment provided for his journey to the next world — flagons, bottles, spoons and bowls, and the 30 counters, probably for the gambling game duodecim scripta, laid atop his coffin.

The ruins of Lullingstone Roman villa here, have been on display since the 1960s. But the leaking structure used to cover it was not safe for the more fragile objects, which remained in storage. A £1.8-million English Heritage display, that was set to open on Thursday, seeks to show off the ruins with an elaborate light show. It is for the first time that the villa and its contents are being reunited.

The death of the gambler is still a mystery. He and a woman of a similar age were the only burials found in a mausoleum built behind the opulent villa around A.D. 320. Robbers found and destroyed her coffin centuries ago. But his skeleton and fragments of hers survive to show they were in their 20s. They were of above average height: he was 1.75 m, she 1.67 m. There was no obvious cause of death.

The counters were found with carved bone pieces, including a Medusa head.

The villa is famous for fourth-century wall paintings — reconstructed from thousands of plaster fragments and now in the British Museum in London — which are proof of some of the earliest Christian worship in Britain.

The villa was discovered in 1939 when a tree blew down, revealing scattered mosaic fragments. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008