New Roman find reveals evidence of ancient London's last days

London, Dec. 7: An unprecedented collection of 19 metal vessels from the late Roman period, going on temporary display at Museum of London from today, is being hailed by archaeologists as the most significant find in 30 years of excavations in the Upper Walbrook valley, in the heart of what is now the City of London.

Discovered at the bottom of a wood lined well, these astonishingly well-preserved artefacts offer a rare glimpse into the last days of Londinium, and provide tantalising new evidence of the rituals, which may have accompanied the Roman abandonment of the city.

The vessels lay at the bottom of the well and may mark its symbolic closure, a practice already recorded elsewhere in London but usually with ceramic flagons, figurines and even animal or human skulls. It is also possible that these remarkable pieces were hidden by departing Roman Londoners who anticipated a return to the city. Coins found in the well date its construction to AD330 and its closure to around AD380, when significant parts of the Roman city had been deserted.

The finds were uncovered at Drapers Gardens, a site owned by the Drapers Company, during a dig by Pre-Construct Archaeology and comprise large wine buckets, a cauldron and large dishes, handled shallow bowls or dippers, part of a hanging bowl, a set of three nested bowls, a flagon, an iron ladle and a trivet. They are, in the main, made of copper alloy with several vessels, a flagon and dish, in lead alloy.

To find uncorroded metal tableware of this type is remarkable and extremely rare. Some of the objects even have swing handles that remain articulated after nearly 1700 years.

Although they look like fine household objects, it is possible that the hoard may also have had religious uses. Some shallow dishes with handles were part of the bathing process, other bowls, dishes and jugs were sets for washing hands (much food was eaten with fingers) but were also used during religious ceremonies, including sacrifices, where bowls were used for pouring libations in honour of the gods.

Jenny Hall, curator of Roman London at Museum of London said, 'These finds are amazing, I just couldn't stop grinning when I first saw them. In size and scale they are simply unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever been found from London before, or anywhere else in Britain. '

Gary Brown, Managing Director, PCA, said, "All sites are unique and all have the potential to spring surprises although very few do. At Drapers' Gardens we were obviously aware that the site was of the very highest order.

However, the well was very ordinary, black fill with few finds, but suddenly out of the black was this shining metalwork. And so much of it. Exceptional! "

The archaeological site was located in what had been the gardens of the Drapers Company Hall. Until relatively recently (the 1960s) this land had remained largely undeveloped which in turn had prevented the site from becoming riddled with later pits, cellars, cess pits and wall foundations, which would have punctured the underlying levels.

Due to the waterlogged environmental conditions of the Upper Walbrook much of the organic content found here, such as wood and leather, has survived intact. Metalwork too survives well in these conditions rather than corroding away and the good survival of these base metal vessels makes them much rarer than silver or gold tableware of the period, thus making this find one of both national and international importance.

Pre Construct Archaeology was founded in 1993 and has grown to be one of the top five archaeological units in the country. With two offices, in London and Durham, PCA is able to offer nationwide coverage to clients seeking professional above and below ground archaeological services. Currently the organisation is working on projects as geographically disparate as Glasgow and Gosport and on projects ranging from the prehistoric to the modern era.

The Museum of London is one of the largest urban museums in the world. It is currently redeveloping its lower galleries to retell the story of London and Londoners from 1666 to the present day.

The 18-million-pound project will revitalize the galleries and create a glass window overlooking London Wall. The new galleries will open in 2009. (ANI)