The ancient Roman Empire extended all the way to the United Kingdom, so it's not unusual for archeologists to dig up treasures in England. However, a recent find in London is even more impressive than usual. The largest Roman mosaic found in the capital in 50 years has been unearthed near the Shard in central London.
Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) came across the elaborate mosaics during a construction project in Southwark. As part of the building process, excavations were conducted and experts were delighted with what they found—two decorative mosaic panels with geometric patterns and floral motifs. It's believed that the mosaics, which are in good condition, were the floors of a Roman triclinium.
A triclinium is a formal dining room that was furnished with chaise lounges so that guests could recline while being served multiple courses or watching entertainment. These dinner parties were grand occasions and so it comes as no surprise that the interior decoration would reflect this importance.
Experts believe that the larger panel found in London dates to the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD. Experts were also able to spot an older mosaic under the visible one, which indicates that the space had been refurbished. Its location in Southwark places it just on the outskirts of Roman Londinium. This area was established around 50 CE and sat on the site of the modern-day City of London. It was the capital of Roman Britannia until it was abandoned in the 5th century CE.
With this strategic location, MOLA believes that the mosaic was located inside a mansion. This type of Roman building was an official resting place run by the government for officials and couriers. It would have acted as a place to take a break while coming to and going from London.
This remarkable find just proves how much undiscovered history we have lying below the surface of our streets. For MOLA, the find is a reminder of how important their work is to preserve history. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime find in London,” said MOLA site supervisor Antonietta Lerz. “It has been a privilege to work on such a large site where the Roman archaeology is largely undisturbed by later activity—when the first flashes of color started to emerge through the soil, everyone on site was very excited.”
It has been 50 years since archeologists have found an ancient Roman mosaic of this size in London.