When developers started work on a complex of offices and homes in Southwark, London, they were expecting to find some Roman archaeology. But what they found turned out to be way more impressive than what they bargained for.
Just a stone's throw from London Bridge, archaeologists uncovered some of the largest mosaics in Britain last year. Now, next to the same spot, they found a two-story mausoleum and yet another mosaic under the first one, offering a unique glimpse into the life of wealthy Roman Londoners.
Echoes of Londinium
London isn't often considered a Roman town, but the city thrived under the Romans. Londiunium, as the Romans called it, was the capital of Roman Britain during most of the period of Roman rule. The population of the Roman city would have peaked around 100 AD, when Londinium boasted a population of some 60,000 people. Unsurprisingly, then, there's a lot of Roman archaeology in the British capital.
There has been a lot of archaeological digging in London and yet, scientists may only now be discovering the most interesting sites in town.
A glimpse into ancient Roman London
For starters, this "incredibly rare" mausoleum includes the walls and interior floors. At its center, a mosaic surrounded by a lifted platform hosted the tombs of what was probably a very wealthy family.
Around the mausoleum, there appears to have been an extensive burial area. Researchers have discovered over 80 Roman burials, including artifacts such as bracelets, coins, pottery, and even a spectacular bone comb.
The Roman mosaic is visible on satellite data.
Unfortunately, the tombs in the mausoleum were pillaged, possibly during medieval times. No coffins or burial remains were found inside the mausoleum. However, researchers did uncover over 100 coins, pieces of metal, and other artifacts.
Antonietta Lerz, senior archaeologist at MOLA commented on the findings. She explained that this is essentially a glimpse into what life in ancient London was like, at least for the wealthier part of society.
“This relatively small site in Southwark is a microcosm for the changing fortunes of Roman London – from the early phase of the site where London expands and the area has lavishly decorated Roman buildings, all the way through to the later Roman period when the settlement shrinks and it becomes a more quiet space where people remember their dead.
“It provides a fascinating window into the living conditions and lifestyle of this part of the city in the Roman period.”
Now, local council members have ensured the community that the findings will be preserved and accessible to everyone. For now, however, it's unclear what will remain in place and what will be dismantled and reassembled in a museum.