Ancient Roman floor over 1,500 years old discovered under London Street

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An incredibly well-preserved Roman floor has been discovered beneath the streets of London, with the more than 1,500-year-old mosaic hailed as a ‘once in a lifetime’ find.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archeology (MOLA) made the incredible find during excavation work in the capital, near the UK’s tallest skyscraper, The Shard.

The highly decorated floor has been hailed as the largest section of Roman mosaic discovered in London for half a century, with the discovery dating back to the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD.

MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. The discovery is believed to be the largest flooring discovered in more than 50 years.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping

Antonietta Lerz, MOLA site supervisor, said: “This is a unique find in London.

“It was a privilege to work on such a large site where Roman archeology is largely undisturbed by later activity. When the first flashes of color began to emerge through the ground, everyone on the site was very excited!”

It is assumed that the floor was part of a large room, believed to be a “lavish” dining room known as the “triclinium”.

The building is thought to have been in use for a considerable time, with archaeologists finding traces of an earlier mosaic beneath the top layer, indicating renovation work, possibly in line with the latest trends.

MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic.
MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. The ground was discovered near the UK’s tallest building, The Shard.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping

Describing the complex find, MOLA said: “The newly discovered mosaic comprises two highly decorated panels made up of small colored tiles placed in a red mosaic floor.

“The larger panel shows large, colorful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining sprigs – a pattern known as guilloche.

“There are also lotus flowers and several different geometric elements, including a pattern known as Solomon’s knot, which is made up of two intertwined loops.

“Dr David Neal, a former English Heritage archaeologist and leading expert on Roman mosaics, attributed this design to the ‘Acanthus Group’ – a team of mosaicists working in London who developed their own unique local style.”

    MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic.
MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. The flooring is believed to date back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping

Meanwhile, a smaller section has a less complicated design, featuring two Solomon’s knots, a pair of “stylized flowers” among red, white and black geometric patterns.

The team noted that an almost identical design was discovered in Germany, suggesting that the same artist worked in both locations.

It is believed that the dining room was part of a Roman “motel”, known as a mansio, reserved for the wealthy. The building is believed to have housed key amenities including stables, living quarters and, of course, restaurants.

“Given the size of the dining room and its lavish decoration, it is believed that only high-ranking officers and their guests would have used this space.

“The full footprint of the building is still being uncovered, but current finds suggest it was a very large complex, with several rooms and corridors surrounding a central courtyard,” MOLA said.

MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic.
MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. The intricate floor is believed to have been part of a lavish dining room.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping

The mosaic floors will be removed from the site for ongoing conservation work, allowing archaeologists to examine the earlier floor below.

Next to the mansio, archaeologists discovered the remains of another large building, believed to be a private house belonging to a wealthy family.

“Traces of richly painted walls, terrazzo-style floors and mosaics, coins, jewelry and decorated bone hairpins all testify to the level of wealth enjoyed by the inhabitants of this region 2 000 years,” MOLA noted.

The excavation work is part of the construction of The Liberty of Southwark, a scheme to provide shops, restaurants and homes being developed by Transport for London (TfL) and developer U+I.

MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic.
MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. There were traces of an earlier mosaic under the uncovered tiles.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping

Henrietta Nowne, Senior Development Manager at U+I, said: “The Liberty of Southwark site has a rich history, but we did not expect a find of this magnitude or significance.”

While Puja Jain, senior property developer at TfL, added: “This is a very exciting discovery which illustrates the rich and complex history of this site and of London as a whole.”

Part of the plans will see Southwark’s “medieval courtyards and lanes” restored. London is famous for its long history, with the capital crowned Londinium by the Romans, who officially established the city in 43 AD and remained there for 400 years.

MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic.
MOLA archaeologists are working on the Roman mosaic. Soil will be transported offsite and retained.
©MOLA/Andy Chopping
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