MOLA archaeologists discover major Roman mosaic in London

A team of archaeologists from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) have announced the discovery of a Roman mosaic, one of the largest preserved mosaics discovered in London for over 50 years.

Roman London (Londinium) was established in AD 47 around a narrow point on the River Thames. By the end of the 1st century AD, Londinium had expanded rapidly and became one of the largest cities in Roman Britannia, replacing Camulodunum (Colchester) as the provincial capital.

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During the 2nd century AD, Londinium had reached its peak with around 45,000-60,000 inhabitants. The city contained a large forum and basilica (one of the largest in the Roman Empire north of the Alps), several bathhouse complexes and temples, an amphitheatre, the Governors Palace (Praetorium), and many townhouses (domus).

The team from MOLA were excavating a site located near the Shard in preparation for the construction of the Liberty of Southwark, a new cultural space for offices and homes, where they discovered a mosaic with two highly decorated panels made up of small, coloured tiles set within a red tessellated floor.

The largest of the panels depicts colourful flowers surrounded by bands of an intertwining strand motif known as a guilloche, in addition to several geometric elements and patterns that Dr David Neal, an expert in Roman mosaics has attributed to the ‘Acanthus group’. The smaller panel is simpler in design, with Solomon’s knots, two stylised flowers and geometric motifs in red, white and black.

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Archaeologists suggest that the mosaic might have been set in the dining room of a Roman mansio – an upmarket ‘motel’ offering accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities for state couriers and officials travelling to and from London. The complete footprint of the building is still being uncovered, but current findings suggest this was a very large complex, with multiple rooms and corridors surrounding a central courtyard.

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Whilst the larger mosaic panel can be dated to the late 2nd to early 3rd century AD, the room was clearly in use for a longer period of time. Traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the panel suggests that the room has been refurbished over the years.

Henrietta Nowne, Senior Development Manager, U+I, said: “The Liberty of Southwark site has a rich history, but we never expected a find on this scale or significance. We are committed to celebrating the heritage of all of our regeneration sites, so it’s brilliant that we’ve been able to unearth a beautiful and culturally-important specimen in central London that will be now preserved so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

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