An extraordinary archaeological find has come to light during construction work in the vibrant Southwark borough of South London. It’s a Roman mausoleum boasting remarkably well-preserved mosaic flooring. The Museum of London Archaeology has confirmed that this Roman mausoleum is the most intact ever discovered in Britain, making it an incredibly rare and significant historical artifact excavated in Europe.
Unveiling Roman Treasures
Alongside the Roman mausoleum, the excavation yielded a fascinating array of artifacts, including pottery shards, roofing tiles, and coins. Notably, the site also revealed a collection of 80 Roman burials, likely utilized by the affluent residents of the city during ancient times. While no burial coffins were found, the absence of such remains does not diminish the significance of this discovery. Notably, this area of Southwark, located near popular tourist attractions such as Borough Market and London Bridge, has previously yielded other significant Roman treasures. These include a Roman sarcophagus displayed in 2017 and a splendid intact mosaic found in 2018. The mosaic was particularly noteworthy, as it represented the largest mosaic ever found in London. Its decorative elements, featuring geometric, floral, and columnar motifs, bore striking resemblances to a mosaic discovered in the German city of Trier.
Catherine Rose, a councilor for the London Borough of Southwark, expressed her admiration for the rediscovery of this Roman mausoleum and its exquisite mosaics, emphasizing how it adds to the rich tapestry of the area’s past. The site is co-owned by Landsec Developers, who will now proceed with their construction plans after the completion of the excavations. The mausoleum will be meticulously restored to its best possible condition and eventually opened to the public for display, allowing visitors to marvel at this extraordinary testament to ancient Roman craftsmanship and heritage. This remarkable find offers a captivating glimpse into the ancient Roman presence in London and underscores the importance of preserving the diverse layers of history.
When archaeologists found ancient palm-sized slate-carved owl figures on the Iberian Peninsula, they thought those were sacred objects used for rituals, representing ancient deities. But a new study has revealed that those thousands-year-old cartoon-like figures actually could be amulets or toys for children.
The Owl Figures
A team of researchers from CSIC or the Spanish National Research Council examined 100 engraved slate owl plaques. Over the past years, approximately 4,000 such owl figurines have been collected at pit and tomb sites scattered throughout the Iberian Peninsula. All of the figures date to the Copper Age or 3500 B.C. – 2750 B.C. and feature noticeable characteristics of the bird, like etchings of a beak, two carved circles for the large frontal eyes, plumage, wings, etc. There are also two small perforations at the top of each figure, likely used for decorating with actual owl feathers.
The New Study
While examining the 100 samples, the researchers’ first impression was that the engravings were pretty simple. According to Juan J. Negro, the lead author of the study and a biologist in the Department of Evolutionary Ecology at the CSIC, the carvers of those little owl figures didn’t invest that much skills or time into making them. Another common feature among the models was they all were made using slate, a widely-used soft material predominantly composed of chlorite, illite, and quartz. The malleability of slate makes it easy to carve with any pointed tool made of copper, quartz, or flint. Also, for centuries, slate has been known to be the first material children get their first handwriting lesson on. So the researchers concluded that the owl figures were likely engraved by children, who were possibly just beginning their carving lesson.
Though there’s no solid explanation of what inspired the Copper Age kids in that part of the world to focus on owls instead of any other bird, researchers believe it is because of the common sighting of the predatory bird in urban areas. According to Negro, during that time, the two most abundant owl species in the Iberian Peninsula region were the long-eared owl (Asio Otus) and the little owl (Athene Noctua). Also, children for ages have found the features of this iconic bird very striking, so much so that they generally don’t need a model to draw a picture of an owl. To test this theory, Negro and his team compared the images of owls drawn by modern-day children with the ancient Copper Age carvings, and the result was eerily similar!