10,000 Temple of Mithras discoveries draw comparisons with Pompeii in Roman London

By Culture24 Reporter | 10 April 2013

A six-month dig by the Museum of London in the former Roman heart of London, excavating 21,000 barrows of soil across a three-acre site, has resulted in the largest collection of small finds ever to be excavated in the capital.

A photo of a glowing amber artefact against a black background
Amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator's helmet. Amber was an expensive imported material and was thought to have magical powers. The Roman author Pliny describes how amber amulets could protect children from illness and the symbolism of the gladiator may also be protective© MoLA
Described as “beautifully preserved” and possessing the potential to provide unprecedented insights into the way bygone citizens lived, the project at Bloomberg Place – once home to the Temple of Mithras – has uncovered 10,000 finds dating from around 40 AD to the early 5th century.

Objects and structures from the lost Walbrook River include a complete Gladiator amulet, fist and phallus good luck charms, an entire new temple section, ritual deposits, a Roman well containing coins and cow skulls and “complex” Roman drainage systems.

“The waterlogged conditions left by the Walbrook Stream have given us layer upon layer of Roman timber buildings, fences and yards,” said Sophie Jackson, of Museum of London Archaeology, calling the site “a wonderful slice” through London’s first four centuries.

“They are 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 was originally investigated by an eminent archaeologist, WF Grimes, in 1954, sparking one of the most high-profile excavations of the 20th century.

Modern archaeologists began by dismantling the 1960s reconstruction. They found wood and leather in unusually sturdy fettle, attesting to a thriving former industry. An inked writing tablet may also have been a letter of affectionate, and a “mysterious” leather item, depicting a gladiator fighting mythical creatures, may have decorated a chariot.

Enthusiasts have swiftly dubbed the site the Pompeii of the North, and the statistics alone make impressive reading: more than 100 writing tablets were found across seven metres of archaeology, revealing 700 boxes of pottery fragments.

They will now be analysed with a view to establishing an exhibition allowing the public to see the artefacts.

More pictures:

A photo of dozens of archaeologists working on a muddy outdoor site
A view of the excavations at Bloomberg Place, looking south-east© MoLA
A photo of two archaeologists in blue helmets working on a mud site
A Roman woven straw basket, found preserved within a pit© MoLA
A photo of a piece of Roman archaeology showing a cut-out of a horse
Lead or tin plaque depicting a bull. This could be a representation of the zodiac symbol Taurus© MoLA
A photo of a piece of grey metal Roman archaeology
Roman leather carbatina, a shoe made from a single piece of leather with cut openwork decoration and a seam at the heel (Late 1st – early 2nd century AD)© MoLA
A photo of a square gold piece of Roman archaeology
Roman copper-alloy plate brooch with blue enamelling (2nd century AD)© MoLA
A photo of a light brown Roman pot
Complete ceramic beaker with applied 'ring and dot' decoration, found buried beneath the floor of a building as a foundation offering. Made locally in south-east England (mid–late 1st century AD)© MoLA
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