Discovery of 10,000 artefacts brings Roman London to life – pictures of the top 20 finds

Discovery of 10,000 artefacts brings Roman London to life – pictures of the top 20 finds


A dig in the heart of London, just yards from the River Thames, has yielded 10,000 finds from across the first 4 centuries of the city’s existence, which experts say “will transform our understanding” of Roman London.



Museum of London archaeologists (MOLA) say the artefacts, which date from the 40s AD to the early 5th century, comprise the largest collection of small finds ever recovered on a single site in London.  The 3 acre site on Queen Victoria Street, which is being developed to become media corporation Bloomberg’s European headquarters, contains the bed of the River Walbrook, one of London’s ‘lost’ rivers.  The waterlogged river bed provided an anaerobic environment which has perfectly preserved organic materials such as leather and wood.

The vast trove of every day personal items such as clothes, shoes and documents, as well as timber structures such as buildings, fences and yards, is so well preserved that the site has been dubbed the “Pompeii of the North”.  Tree ring samples from the preserved timber will help confirm the earliest foundation date for Londinium, currently thought to be 47 AD.

Prize finds include over 100 fragments of Roman writing tablets, some containing names and addresses; and a wooden door, only the second to be found in London.  The site also includes a previously unexcavated section of the Temple of Mithras, which was first unearthed in 1954.

Sadie Watson, the site director for MOLA, said: “We have entire streets of Roman London in front of us.  This is the site that we have been dreaming of for 20 years.  The archaeology on this project so far is probably the most important excavation ever held within London, certainly within Roman London.  The depth, the preservation, the extent of the archaeology – the entire Roman period is represented by fantastic buildings as well as artefacts.”

The top 20 finds unearthed so far are pictured below – all image credits are for the Museum of London Archaeology:

1 - Fragments of a ceramic beaker, dating from around the 1st century AD
1 – Fragments of a ceramic beaker, dating from around the 1st century AD

 

2 - Leather Roman carbatina shoe
2 – Leather Roman carbatina shoe

 

3 - Hoard of pewter bowls and cups. These pieces of fine tableware were thrown into a timber lined well as part of a ritual offering
3 – Hoard of pewter bowls and cups. These pieces of fine tableware were thrown into a timber lined well as part of a ritual offering

 

4 - A mystery leather object. Stitching holes reveal a depiction of gladiator fighting a mythical character. Possible chariot furnishing or wall hanging
4 – A mystery leather object. Stitching holes reveal a depiction of gladiator fighting a mythical character. Possible chariot furnishing or wall hanging

 

5 - This fragment of wooden tablet is a letter to a friend. Over 100 fragments have been preserved and contain fascinating information about Roman life
5 – This fragment of wooden tablet is a letter to a friend. Over 100 fragments have been preserved and contain fascinating information about Roman life

 

6 - Bone 'fist and phallus' amulet. Both the phallus and the hand making a ‘manu ficu’, an obscene gesture, were considered to be symbols of good luck by the Romans used for warding off the 'evil eye'
6 – Bone ‘fist and phallus’ amulet. Both the phallus and the hand making a ‘manu ficu’, an obscene gesture, were considered to be symbols of good luck by the Romans used for warding off the ‘evil eye’

 

7 - Copper-alloy 'fist and phallus' cavalry harness pendant. This had a pair of clappers to make a jingling sound as the horse moved
7 – Copper-alloy ‘fist and phallus’ cavalry harness pendant. This had a pair of clappers to make a jingling sound as the horse moved

 

8 - Copper-alloy brooch. This style was made in Germany
8 – Copper-alloy brooch. This style was made in Germany

 

9 - Lead or tin plaque depicting a bull. This could be a representation of the zodiac symbol Taurus
9 – Lead or tin plaque depicting a bull. This could be a representation of the zodiac symbol Taurus

 

10 - Copper-alloy plate brooch with blue enamelling
10 – Copper-alloy plate brooch with blue enamelling

 

11 - Bone sword handle. This is the grip from a Roman sword, probably the short sword known as the gladius, and provides evidence of the Roman army in London
11 – Bone sword handle. This is the grip from a Roman sword, probably the short sword known as the gladius, and provides evidence of the Roman army in London

 

12 - Roman Iron Knife
12 – Roman Iron Knife

 

13 - Ceramic oil lamp, depicting a stag
13 – Ceramic oil lamp, depicting a stag

 

14 - Complete Roman ceramic beaker
14 – Complete Roman ceramic beaker

 

15 - Amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator's helmet
15 – Amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s helmet

 

16 - Section of Roman oak fencing, which survives to shoulder height
16 – Section of Roman oak fencing, which survives to shoulder height

 

17 - Roman tiled floor within small wattle building, possibly an animal pen
17 – Roman tiled floor within small wattle building, possibly an animal pen

 

18 - Roman woven straw basket, found preserved within pit
18 – Roman woven straw basket, found preserved within pit

 

19 - Timber drain used to divert water from a rooftop
19 – Timber drain used to divert water from a rooftop

 

20 - Timber foundation beams from Roman building
20 – Timber foundation beams from Roman building

Source:  Museum of London Archaeology



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