South London Unearths a “Once-in-a-Lifetime” Find: Stunning 1,800-Year-Old Roman Mosaic Floor

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A stunning Roman mosaic floor from 1,800 years ago is found in South London. It is a “once-in-a-lifetime” find.
Archaeologists are very excited about a great find that was made in South London. A beautifully preserved Roman-era mosaic floor that is thought to be at least 1,800 years old was found during digs for a new building project. It’s the biggest piece of decorated tile found in the city in the last fifty years and has been called a “once-in-a-lifetime” find.

The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) found the colourful, two-paneled masterpiece while they were exploring a spot in Southwark that would become the Liberty of Southwark, a mixed-use development. This week, experts from MOLA will carefully look at the tiles where they are before taking them to the museum to be preserved even more. The long-term goal is to show these gems to everyone.

An image from the Museum of London Archaeology on Feb. 23 shows a mosaic that once decorated the floor of a Roman dining room. (Andy Chopping/MOLA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Antonietta Lerz, the senior archaeologist who oversaw the dig, thinks this find is truly amazing. To quote her, “the size, rarity, and preservation” of the murals make them a “once-in-a-lifetime” find.

From the middle of the first century to the beginning of the fifth century, the Romans ruled Britain. Their capital, Londinium, thrived in what is now London. Southwark is known to have a lot of Roman artefacts. In the past, coins, jewellery, and copper bowls have been found there.

A news statement about the find said that the older of the two mosaic panels was made in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. The room it was in “was clearly in use for a longer period of time,” the news release says.

(Andy Chopping/MOLA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“Astonishingly, traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the one currently visible have been identified,” the press release says, implying that the room has been updated over time, possibly to keep up with fashion.

“The two panels together make up the largest area of decorated mosaic found in London in the last fifty years,” Lerz said. “We not only have the mosaics, but we can also see the room where they were put down.” Based on these features, the room could have been a dining room in a rich home or a mansio, a Roman rest stop for travellers.

The news release goes on to say, “Because the dining room is so big and has such fancy decorations, it is likely that only high-ranking officers and their guests would have used it.” The building’s full footprint is still being found, but what we know so far points to a huge structure with many rooms and hallways circling a central courtyard.

(Andy Chopping/MOLA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Lerz is amazed at how “remarkable” the mosaic’s state is, given how much Southwark has changed over the last 2,000 years, including “the 17th-to-19th-century development of the site.”

Panels in the mosaic show “the character of the area and the people who lived there,” which is what makes it important, according to Lerz. “It was a diverse area, but this find shows that there were also beautiful homes and buildings where wealthy people lived.” A large Roman building, thought to be the home of a rich family, has also been found close to the Liberty of Southwark site.

The mosaic is a powerful example of “the rich and complex history of this site and London as a whole,” says Puja Jain, a senior property developer at Transport for London who is working with the real estate company U+I to build the Liberty of Southwark. As a senior development manager for U+I, Henrietta Nowne said in the press release, “We never expected a find on this scale or significance.”

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