Archaeologists excavating a construction site in London have uncovered a rare mosaic floor dating to ancient Rome. It’s not uncommon to uncover Roman ruins and artifacts in South London, where the Roman city of Londinium was located. (The Romans ruled Britain from the first to the fifth century and founded the capital of Roman Britannia in London.)
However, this recent discovery drew attention for being the largest Roman mosaic to be found in London in the past 50 years.
A “Once in a Lifetime” Find
The mosaics were discovered during the construction of a multiuse development in Southwark, a neighborhood in South London. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) was brought in to carry out excavations, unearthing two colorful decorative mosaic panels.
According to Antonietta Lerz, the supervisor of the MOLA site, this is a “once-in-a-lifetime find in London.” She noted that the large Roman site has been largely undisturbed by later activity.”
The mosaics are believed to have been the floor of a Roman triclinium, or a formal dining room. The triclinium would have been furnished with chaise lounges for guests to recline while enjoying multiple courses, being entertained, and admiring the decor.
The room was likely located in either a wealthy home or a Roman mansio (a resting house for travelers). An early look at the building’s footprint, still in the process of being uncovered, suggested that it was a “very large complex, with multiple rooms and corridors surrounding a central courtyard.”
Archaeologists have dated the larger of the two mosaic panels to the late second or early third century, making it at least 1,800 years old. The archeologists were astonished to find traces of an even earlier mosaic beneath this panel, showing that the room was refurbished over time.
The mosaic panels are highly decorated, including elaborate motifs, geometric patterns, and colorful flowers. Two of the designs present in the panels are known as:
- Guilloche, consisting of large, colorful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining strands
- Solomon’s knot, consisting of two interlaced loops
Dr. David Neal, a prominent expert in Roman mosaics, attributes the panels’ design to a team of mosaicists known as the “Acanthus group.” The Acanthus group worked in London at the time and is known for developing a unique style.
The fact that this design is a near replica of another found in Trier, Germany suggests that the Acanthus group was likely responsible for both — and that traveling Roman artisans worked in Londinium.
Learn More About Ancient Roman Tile
MOLA plans to work with expert conservators to further assess, transport, conserve, and eventually display the mosaics. In the meantime, you can take a closer look at the panels using MOLA’s 3D model.