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"We have entire streets of Roman London in front of us."
April 10, 2013 6:32 PM   Subscribe

An archaeological excavation led by the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has been quietly uncovering a site on the now-lost Walbrook River which they have dubbed the Pompeii of the north.

The BBC reports that the site is destined to hold Bloomberg's media headquarters, and that the Temple of Mithras partly-unearthed in this excavation, along with various other artifacts, will be preserved as part of a public exhibition.
posted by Athanassiel (24 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder whether any of those phalluses or fist pendants represent heretofore lost anti-evil eye symbols?
posted by mr. digits at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2013


I wonder whether any of those phalluses or fist pendants represent heretofore lost anti-evil eye symbols?

Not exactly lost, but it's a cool example.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:54 PM on April 10, 2013


SO EXCITING

sorry I hope this isn't out of line but...

If anyone's interested, the Museum of London has a fantastic online catalog with a great many fascinating artefacts from Roman London and the surrounding area. It also houses the world's largest archaeological archive, including finds brought in through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. They also have a really fantastic guide to Londinium Today including some info on the Temple of Mithras's original excavation. (Recent publications include exciting reports on the excavation on the Jubilee Line Extension and the brief but well-done Tracks Through Time: Archaeology and history from the London Overground East London Line produced along with the London Overground. If you are interested in London archaeology as a whole, you might like A research framework for London archaeology 2002. I am in no way related to MOLA, I just have spent hundreds of pounds/hours/wistful glances on their materials and collections.)

The London Archaeologist may also be helpful for anyone local looking to do slightly lighter reading on London-area projects and finds.

English Heritage have put out this book, The Temple of Mithras, London: Excavations by W.F.Grimes and A.Williams at the Walbrook, if you're interested in delving into the original excavation, which became quite a phenomenon:
In 1954, it was front-page news day after day, attracted half-mile queues and was watched across the nation on Movietone news. Its fate was anxiously discussed at cabinet meetings and watched with close interest by the prime minister, Winston Churchill.

Not even for the first time!
"In just three days in 1869 more than 50,000 people came to view the Bucklersbury Pavement," and man, do I wish public archaeological excavations had as many groupies now (just look at the picture!) Thanks, Walbrook River, we hardly knew ye.

One teensy problem with the first excavation and reconstruction of the Temple was not only its bizarre location on top of a car park, abandoned with few signs and completely out of context, was the part where "the stones were put together with such hard cement that separating them is now wearing out 10 expensive diamond-tipped cutters a day."

The anaerobic conditions that preserve so many awesome finds of organic origin might be familiar if you're a fan of Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian's Wall that has also produced famous writing tablets and hundreds (!!!) of assorted Roman shoes. (Also a lot of mud, but it's all part of the charm of archaeology...)
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:26 PM on April 10, 2013 [39 favorites]


At first I thought "Temple of Mithras? London? Was that the name of some Edwardian gentleman's club?". Then I thought some more and realized "Damn, Roman Empire, you big.".
posted by benito.strauss at 7:30 PM on April 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wonder whether any of those phalluses or fist pendants represent heretofore lost anti-evil eye symbols?

Proof that bros have been drawing dicks on things since Roman times. I wonder if future archeologists will study the spray-painted penises behind the grocery store down the street.
posted by photoslob at 7:33 PM on April 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Proof that bros have been drawing dicks on things since Roman times

You have no idea. And yes, considering the number of archaeologists scrutinizing "dicks on things" now...
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:38 PM on April 10, 2013


BBC Radio 4's always engrossing In Our Time covered The Cult of Mithras a few weeks ago. Available here.
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:48 PM on April 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Everyone concentrates on the sandal... but north of the Alps, the footwear that allowed Rome to conquer were sensible yet colorful woolen socks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


@jetlagaddict, so not out of line, thanks for all of that!
posted by Jughead at 8:21 PM on April 10, 2013


Not my period, but if you're a materials culture type, The Museum of London is forged out of pure awesome.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:31 PM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


One teensy problem with the first excavation and reconstruction of the Temple was not only its bizarre location on top of a car park, abandoned with few signs and completely out of context, was the part where "the stones were put together with such hard cement that separating them is now wearing out 10 expensive diamond-tipped cutters a day."

When I was in high school, my brother and I insisted to our dad we should go see the Temple of Mithras for some reason I've long forgotten. What I haven't forgotten was the completely baffled look on my dad's face when he realised that the random pile of stones that looked like a raised flower bed was in fact the thing we were looking for.
posted by hoyland at 9:04 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


found this related stuff. kinda interesting perspective.

Lost Rivers of London: The River Walbrook

Rough Google map of the River Walbrook
posted by lampshade at 9:14 PM on April 10, 2013


What I haven't forgotten was the completely baffled look on my dad's face when he realised that the random pile of stones that looked like a raised flower bed was in fact the thing we were looking for.

Haha, having seen the photos, I can imagine! Perhaps it was part of the inspiration for Eddie Izzard's wonderful Small Walls bit...I hope the reconstruction ends up more like the London Amphitheatre under Guildhall, which I think does a pretty good job of integrating small walls (and pipes) into a bigger, more engaging space.

also, more on the Walbrook and another lost river, the Tyburn, which you can actually visit without romping through the sewers!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:18 PM on April 10, 2013


And yes, considering the number of archaeologists scrutinizing "dicks on things" now...

"That dick belongs in a museum!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:50 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if I'm going to be in London next month, where would I be able to see this sort of thing outside of the Museum of London? Does the excavation have a viewing platform?
posted by thecjm at 9:59 PM on April 10, 2013


If you're going to be in London next month, you might be interested in this or, more a propos, this.
posted by ersatz at 4:08 AM on April 11, 2013


I seriously object to the BBC article's use of the word 'obscene' in that context. They weren't at all - they were everyday symbols, with an awful lot less shock value to the average Roman than, say Page Three does today.

But this is cool brilliant fantastic (I'm at a slightly incoherent point of excitement) and I hadn't known about it before.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:00 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It may be just me, but I really feel that The largest assemblage of fist and phallus good luck charms from one site needs more !!!!!1!!!?!
posted by arha at 5:16 AM on April 11, 2013


Romani ite domum!

Which iirc translates to "wow, this is awesome!"
posted by Mister_A at 5:53 AM on April 11, 2013


From oinopaponton's link:
When a general celebrated a triumph, the Vestals hung an effigy of the fascinus on the underside of his chariot to protect him from invidia.

I had no idea that truck nuts had such a storied history.
posted by Quonab at 7:18 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Awesome, I hope to be able to read those shopping lists and letters in the future when my Latin has improved.

Though I hope they don't uncover Roman junk mail.
posted by dragonplayer at 12:07 PM on April 11, 2013


Those aren't just any dicks, they belong to a god.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:22 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Damn, Roman Empire, you big."

Indeed.
posted by homunculus at 6:25 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Thames Discovery Programme spotlit the (often) humorous blog Walbrook Discovery Programme for all of your MOLA-loving, lost river archaeology needs. Entries include "Meet the Team Part 4 – Don’t feed the Finds Monkeys" and "From Rome with Love," a discussion on hearts in the Roman empire with a telling line... "After all we know how the Romans loved their phalluses!!"
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:06 AM on April 12, 2013


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