Who’d be a property developer in London, eh? One minute you’re fomenting plans for shiny towerblocks, the next, you’re digging up ancient remains and wondering whether a toga-wearing ghost or three will put off prospective buyers.
The latest treasure to be unearthed by this city’s ravening JCBs is a remarkably intact Roman tomb at Liberty of Southwark, a redevelopment of an underused site near London Bridge. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has said that this Roman mausoleum is ‘incredibly rare… with an astonishing level of preservation’ that makes it the most intact example of its kind in the UK.
It comes hot on the heels of another big discovery on the same site: in February last year, archaeologists excavated the biggest mosaics found in London for more than 50 years.
The tomb itself was a two storey building likely to have been used by a wealthy Roman family. It doesn’t now contain any coffins or burial remains, with MOLA suggesting that these were likely removed in medieval times. But the area around it is full of traces of its ancient inhabitants, containing more than 80 burial sites and artefacts including pottery, jewellery, coins, and glass beads.
The Liberty of Southwark development is set to ultimately provide 36 new homes, offices and retail space. It’ll also include the conservation of famous site Crossbones Graveyard, an old pauper’s graveyard where up to 15,000 people are thought to have been buried. Southwark Council has said that these latest archaeological treasures will be preserved and made accessible to curious locals.
These Roman remains add to the story of a patch of land that’s already seen its fair share of history. It was home to unruly medieval meeting place Southwark Fair, strolling players in Shakespeare’s day, and housed the debtors’ prison where Charles Dickens was locked up.
For centuries, Southwark was a lawless place where respectable citizens feared to venture. Now, it’s a classy neighbourhood where well-heeled carb fans queue for hours for Padella pasta. But this latest blast from the past shows that this history-soaked neighbourhood won’t be spruced up without a fight.
History fans, you’ll be able to explore Big Ben from next month.
See more Roman ruins for free at London Mithraeum.