2 March 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Britain’s first Roman funerary bed is discovered in central London after 2,000 years

Archaeologists excavating a construction site in London have unearthed the first Roman “flat-packed” funerary furniture – a fully intact Roman funerary bed -, skeletal remains, and five oak coffins ever found in Britain.

The excavation site, located near Holborn Viaduct in London, will eventually be converted into an office space for the Hogan Lovells law firm. However, the old Roman cemetery is currently providing insight into two millennia of London’s past.

In 47 AD, the Romans founded London as Londinium and later built a bridge across the Thames. The settlement served as an important port, with roads connecting to other Roman outposts in Britain.

Representing a national “first”, the Roman funerary bed was found alongside five oak coffins, adding to a collection of only three Roman wooden coffins ever found in London.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) uncovered the first complete funerary bed to be found in the UK, an object experts have likened to “flat-packed furniture” which would have been used to carry the deceased to the grave.

Roman artworks often show the spirits of the dead lounging on these beds, sipping wine, and eating grapes. Such furnishings would have been buried with the dead, for them to use in the next life.

Reconstruction of the funerary bed. Image: ©MOLA
Reconstruction of the funerary bed. Image: ©MOLA

The funerary bed has carefully carved feet. Meanwhile, the joints were secured with small wooden pegs, and analysis revealed that the artifact was made of “high-quality oak.” Evidence suggests that the bed was disassembled before being placed in the 20 or 30-year-old Roman man’s grave.

The oak bed was found remarkably well preserved by mud of the now subterranean River Fleet which runs beneath the streets of central London.

Heather Knight, Project Officer at MOLA: ‘The levels of preservation we’ve encountered – and particularly uncovering such a vast array of wooden finds – has really blown us away.’

Statement in The Guardian, Michael Marshall, an artifacts specialist with the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), said the Roman bed was “carefully taken apart and stashed, like flat-packed furniture for the next life.”

Roman lamp, glass vial, and beads from a cremation burial. Image: ©MOLA
Roman lamp, glass vial, and beads from a cremation burial. Image: ©MOLA

Marshall explained that the find site, located outside the walls of the Roman city, was about 6 meters (19.7 ft) beneath the modern ground level. While the area had been excavated in the 1990s, discovering the intact Roman bed came as “a complete surprise,” who added that he had “never anything like it before.”

Marshall also said the quality of the bed likely indicates that the deceased was someone of high status, as the bed is “an incredibly well-made piece of furniture… It’s one of the fancier pieces of furniture that’s ever been recovered from Roman Britain.”

Glass beads, a vial containing residue, and a decorated lamp were discovered at the Roman cemetery and date back to the earliest period of Roman occupation in Britain, between 43 AD and 80 AD. Before these recent discoveries, archaeologists had only written records of beds being used in Roman funeral processions. These artifacts are also found carved on tombstones.

Archaeologists excavate one of the medieval timber wells. Image: ©MOLA
Archaeologists excavate one of the medieval timber wells. Image: ©MOLA

This discovery demonstrates that people were buried with Roman funerary beds. But until now there was no evidence that Romans in Britain were buried with beds. This is “the first time” hard evidence for these artifacts being used in funerary rites has ever been found in Britain, explained Marshall.

This lack of evidence could be partly because wooden artifacts do not usually survive as long as metal or glass. The practice of being buried on beds is believed to have been popularised with the introduction of Christianity.

Excavations also revealed that there had once been a second cemetery on the site, dating back to the 16th century.

MOLA

Cover Photo: MOLA

Related Articles

Archaeologists find a Roman military watchtower in Morocco for the first time

7 November 2022

7 November 2022

A Roman military watchtower the first of its kind was discovered by a team of Polish and Moroccan archaeologists in...

Scientists have developed a new tool that enables them to identify prehistoric and historic individuals’ relatives up to the sixth-degree

24 December 2023

24 December 2023 1

A new method of genetic analysis makes it possible to determine family relationships of prehistoric and historical individuals up to...

Archaeologists unearth the Torah Ark of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, destroyed in Lithuania

30 August 2021

30 August 2021

In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, in excavation exposed the Torah ark and bimah (raised prayer platform) of the Great...

2000-Year-Old Marvel: The Mystery of the Parthian Battery

1 March 2024

1 March 2024

The Parthian Battery is believed to be about 2000 years old (from the Parthian period, roughly 250 BCE to CE...

Tajik Buddha in Nirvana – the Largest in the World: 42 feet long and 9 feet high

31 December 2023

31 December 2023

In the past, while Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan destroyed two immense statues of Buddha, art historians in neighboring Tajikistan meticulously...

Huge ancient stone murals discovered in central China: “It is an important discovery that enriches and rewrites the art history of the Song Dynasty”

10 October 2022

10 October 2022

Two stone murals from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) have been discovered in Henan Province, central China, and are the...

Earliest evidence of forest management discovered at the La Draga Neolithic site in Spain

19 July 2023

19 July 2023

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence of forest management at the La Draga Neolithic site in northeastern Spain. A scientific...

Urartian graves in eastern Turkey pointing out novel burial traditions

21 September 2021

21 September 2021

The excavations in Cavuştepe castle continue with the excavations in the necropolis this year. Two new tombs from the Urartian...

Hebrew University Archaeologists have Unveiled 7,000-year-old Seal İmpressions

10 June 2021

10 June 2021

Israeli archaeologists unveiled a 7,000-year-old clay seal impression used for commerce and protection of property, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem...

A rare Ogham inscription found on Pictish stone in Scottish Kirkyard

8 November 2022

8 November 2022

A Pictish carved stone cross slab with a rare inscription in the early medieval ogham language has been discovered in...

Venice of the Pacific: The mysterious Micronesian ruins of Nan Madol

12 July 2022

12 July 2022

Sometimes art and architecture challenge our perceptions of what was formerly thought to be feasible and what our forefathers were...

The 3200-year-old Mycenaean figure that brought Ephesus together with the Hittite civilization: Found in the excavations of Ayasuluk Tepe

11 June 2022

11 June 2022

A 3,200-year-old Mycenaean figurine that could change the perspective on the history of civilization in Western Anatolia during the Bronze...

2500-year-old Persian ancient palace dish discovered in Oluz Höyük, Türkiye

18 October 2023

18 October 2023

A 2,500-year-old earthenware pot containing bone fragments and grains from the Persian-era palace kitchen was discovered during archaeological excavations at...

Metal Scraps were Used İnstead of Money in Bronze Age Europe

8 May 2021

8 May 2021

Bronze scrap uncovered in hoards in Europe was used as currency, according to researchers from the Universities of Göttingen and...

A Child’s Skeleton was Unearthed During the Tozkoparan Mound Excavations

12 August 2021

12 August 2021

The skeleton of a child was unearthed during the rescue excavations carried out in the Tozkoparan mound located in Tozkoparan...