LondonLife – Largest Roman mosaic found in 50 years…

MOLA archaeologists at work on the mosaic unearthed in Southwark. PICTURE: © MOLA/Andy Chopping

The largest Roman mosaic to be unearthed in London in 50 years has been found near The Shard in Southwark.

The well-preserved mosaic, parts of which are thought to be 1,800-years-old, features two highly decorated panels.

The largest of the two shows large, colourful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining strands – a motif known as a guilloche – while the design also features lotus flowers and several different geometric elements, including a pattern known as Solomon’s knot which is made of two interlaced loops.

The smaller panel features a simpler design, with two Solomon’s knots, two stylised flowers and striking geometric motifs in red, white and black. Its design is the “almost exact parallel” of a mosaic found in the German city of Trier which suggests a travelling group of artists may have been responsible for both.

The mosaic is believed to be floor of a dining room or ‘triclinium’ of a Roman ‘mansio’, an “upmarket ‘motel'” which offered accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities to people of high rank. The room would have contained couches on which people would have reclined to eat and would have featured brightly painted walls. Fragments of colourful wall plaster have been found on the site as well as traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the one they discovered.

Location of The Liberty of Southwark site in Roman London (detail). PICTURE: © MOLA reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey.

The discovery was made by archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) during an excavation ahead of building work on a new mixed use development to be constructed on the site, which was previously used as a car park.

MOLA site supervisor, Antonietta Lerz, described the discovery in a statement as a “once-in-a-lifetime find in London”.

“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 colour started to emerge through the soil everyone on site was very excited!” 

The archaeologists have identified another large Roman building neighbouring the mansio which they believe is likely to have been the private residence of a wealthy individual or family.

Plans for the future display of the mosaic are currently under discussion.

MOLA archaeologists at work on the mosaic unearthed in Southwark. PICTURE: © MOLA/Andy Chopping

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