Rare Roman Mausoleum Unearthed in London

Archaeologists say it’s the most intact structure of its kind ever found in Britain

Uncovering the mosaic
An astonishingly well preserved mosaic was unearthed at the same site in early 2022. Museum of London Archaeology

One of the first known mentions of London by name comes from Tacitus, the great Roman historian who chronicled Rome’s presence in Britain. Tacitus wrote that by 60 C.E., London was already a hub of commercial activity.

For this reason, unearthing Roman artifacts there is quite common. But even in a city home to 2,000-year-old ruins, the Museum of London Archaeology’s new discovery has stirred up excitement: Researchers in the district of Southwark found the “most intact Roman mausoleum ever to be discovered in Britain,” according to a statement from the museum.

“This site in Southwark is a microcosm for the changing fortunes of Roman London—from the early phase of the site where London expands and the area has lavishly decorated Roman buildings, all the way through to the later Roman period when the settlement shrinks and it becomes a more quiet space where people remember their dead,” says Antonietta Lerz, an archaeologist at the museum, in the statement. “It provides a fascinating window into the living conditions and lifestyle in this part of the city in the Roman period.”

The mausoleum was found on the same site where in February of last year, archaeologists uncovered the largest Roman mosaic found in decades. Located close to London Bridge and Borough Market, the site is slated to be developed into houses and office space, an initiative called the “Liberty of Southwark.” 

The development’s website makes reference to the rich Roman history of the area, and the developers say in the statement that they plan to display the mosaics and mausoleum rooms for the public.

The mosiac sits above a second similar mosaic, which shows that the floor of the building had been raised. Museum of London Archaeology

When the mosaics were first found, David Neal, a former archaeologist for English Heritage, ascribed the designs of the works to the “Acanthus group,” which was “a team of mosaicists working in London who developed their own unique local style,” per BBC News.

The walls of the mausoleum were mostly dismantled, probably taken to reuse materials during the medieval period, according to the researchers. But evidence suggests that this building was large, possibly two stories. A second mural was found directly under the first, indicating that the floor had been raised. 

“The rediscovery of this Roman mausoleum and mosaics is a testament to the rich tapestry of our past,” says Catherine Rose, who sits on the Southwark borough council. “It is a moment of pride for Southwark, as we pay homage to the ingenuity and artistic brilliance that graced our borough in the Roman times.” 

The researchers say that they were not able to locate any coffins that would once have been inside the mausoleum, but they did find over 100 coins, as well as pottery fragments and other artifacts. Those interred were likely wealthy, potentially belonging to the same family. 

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