File photo: Among the amazing 2 000-year-old finds are coins, good-luck charms and more than 100 fragments of wax and wooden writing tablets.
File photo: Among the amazing 2 000-year-old finds are coins, good-luck charms and more than 100 fragments of wax and wooden writing tablets.

Peek inside Roman London

By FIONA MACRAE Time of article published Apr 11, 2013

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London - Thousands of Roman artefacts have been unearthed from the ‘Pompeii of the North’ – the site of a new office block between two busy London Tube stations.

The discovery of more than 10 000 artefacts, along with entire streets of Roman London, has led to the six-month dig being hailed the most important ever undertaken in the city.

The three-acre site in the capital’s financial district between Mansion House and Bank Tube stations has been dubbed the Pompeii of the North because of the perfect preservation of wooden structures and leather objects which rarely stand the test of time.

But unlike Italy’s Pompeii, which owes its preservation to volcanic ash, the London treasures survived because of mud left behind by the Walbrook stream which once flowed through the area.

Timber buildings that survive to shoulder height speak of a thriving industry, as do off-cuts from leather and metal-working and evidence of a large mill.

Sadie Watson, the site director for Museum of London Archaeology, said: “We have entire streets of Roman London in front of us.

“The depth, the preservation, the extent of the archaeology – the entire Roman period is represented by fantastic buildings as well as artefacts.”

Among the amazing 2 000-year-old finds are coins, good-luck charms and more than 100 fragments of wax and wooden writing tablets. In some cases, messages which would have been scratched on an upper wax layer, remain etched on the wood which lay underneath.

It is hoped the information, which contains details of business transactions, will reveal the names of ordinary Londoners and the streets they lived on. One tablet contains a note handwritten in ink to a “dearest brother”.

Also uncovered were a wooden Roman door – only the second found in London – pottery fragments, an amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s helmet and a large collection of charms in the shape of phalluses and fists. The finds span the entire Roman occupation of Britain, from the 1st century to the early 5th century.

The most unusual discovery is a large piece of leather upholstery that is decorated with an image of a warrior on a chariot flanked by two “hippocamps” – half-horse, half-fish creatures of Roman myth. Used to adorn a horse-drawn carriage, it may have had the function of a modern-day dashboard. It is hoped that analysis of wooden finds will provide a more accurate date for the founding of Roman London, which stands at 43AD.

Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology, which has removed 3 500 tons of soil by hand, said: “The site is a wonderful slice through the first four centuries of London’s existence.

“The waterlogged conditions left by the Walbrook stream have given us layer upon layer of Roman timber buildings, fences and yards – all beautifully preserved and containing amazing personal items, clothes and even documents – all of which will transform our understanding of the people of Roman London.”

The site is being redeveloped by media organisation Bloomberg, which will display some of the key artefacts when its headquarters are completed in 2016. - Daily Mail

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