An ‘Incredibly Rare’ Roman Find in London

The site was the burial ground for some of Roman London’s first denizens.

Surroundings of Trier - Roman villa in Nennig. Mosaic flooring. Photo by DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images.

Archaeologists digging in London’s financial district have discovered what they think to be the first complete Roman funerary bed ever to be uncovered in Britain. The site, which holds remains of 2,000 years of the history of London, has turned up no fewer than five rare Roman oak coffins. The new finds, uncovered near the Holborn Viaduct, a 19th-century road bridge, date from about 43-410 C.E. 

The earth below London has only ever yielded three well-preserved Roman timber coffins, say the experts at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), making these “incredibly rare finds,” according to a press release. 

Courtesy Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).

“We know the Romans buried their dead alongside roads, outside of urban centres,” says Heather Knight, project officer at MOLA, in a press release. “So, it was no great surprise to discover burials at this site, which during the Roman period would have been located 170m west of the city walls and next to the major Roman road of Watling Street. However, the levels of preservation we’ve encountered—and particularly uncovering such a vast array of wooden finds—has really blown us away.”

Roman art shows beds being used as part of funeral rites. This one, which features carved feet and joints fixed with small wooden pegs, was found disassembled in the grave. It is speculated that it may have been used to carry the deceased to the burial, and was probably intended to be used in the afterlife. Skeletal remains, beads, a glass vial, and a decorated lamp were found along with the bed.

Previous digs at the site have uncovered chalk floors and timber-lined wells that experts believe to be the remains of a 13th-century tannery, as well as a large 15th- or 16th-century water pipe that is believed to have been used to pump water on a ship. 

The Holborn Viaduct site will soon be home to a 265,000-square-foot office space for a global law firm.

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