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London dig turns up slice of Roman life

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 5:42 AM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
Museum of London Archaeology conservator Luisa Duarte dusts a Roman sculpture of an eagle clutching a serpent, dating from the first or second century. It was dug up at a site in the City of London, the UK capital's financial center, which is known once to have been home to a Roman cemetery. The statue is 26 inches tall and made of limestone. It will be on display at the Museum of London for the next six months. Museum of London Archaeology conservator Luisa Duarte dusts a Roman sculpture of an eagle clutching a serpent, dating from the first or second century. It was dug up at a site in the City of London, the UK capital's financial center, which is known once to have been home to a Roman cemetery. The statue is 26 inches tall and made of limestone. It will be on display at the Museum of London for the next six months.
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Pompeii of the north
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Archaeologists have found some 10,000 Roman artifacts in the heart of the City of London
  • They include unusual wooden and leather objects, preserved by the wet ground
  • A new section of the Temple of Mithras, uncovered at the site in 1954, has also been found
  • The excavations are at the site of Bloomberg's new European headquarters

(CNN) -- Phallic good luck charms, wooden buildings, an amber gladiator amulet, even documents -- all these are among a huge trove of Roman artifacts preserved by a lost river in London's financial district, archaeologists said Wednesday.

The find has given an extraordinary glimpse into the bustling everyday life of Londinium, as the Roman city was known, the Museum of London Archaeology said.

In the course of six months, the team has removed 3,500 metric tons of soil by hand and revealed some 10,000 finds covering the entire period of the Roman occupation of Britain, from around 40 AD to the early 5th century.

Among them are leather objects and wooden walls standing to shoulder height, as well as timber plank floors.

Roman ruins found in the heart of London
Archaeological treasure trove in London

These materials rarely survive the tests of time, leading archaeologists to dub the site the "Pompeii of the north," the Museum of London Archaeology said.

Among the finds is a mysterious leather object depicting a gladiator fighting mythical creatures that may have once adorned a chariot, it said.

"The site is a wonderful slice through the first four centuries of London's existence," said Sophie Jackson of the Museum of London Archaeology.

"The waterlogged conditions left by the Walbrook Stream have given us layer upon layer of Roman timber buildings, fences and yards, all beautifully preserved and containing amazing personal items, clothes and even documents -- all of which will transform our understanding of the people of Roman London."

London rail excavation unearths suspected 'plague pit'

The dig is taking place in Bloomberg Place, a three-acre site in the heart of the Roman city of London and home to the Temple of Mithras, built in the 3rd century.

The temple was discovered during building work in 1954 but excavations for the construction of Bloomberg's new European headquarters have revealed new remains.

These include a previously unexcavated section of the temple, as well as rubbish and ritual deposits from the Walbrook, including Roman coins.

Among the haul is what the museum says is the largest group of fist and phallus good luck charms ever recovered from one site.

A hoard of pewter, coins and cow skulls thrown into a Roman well as part of a ritual have also been unearthed, as well as the remains of a complex Roman drainage system used to carry waste from industrial buildings into the Walbrook, one of London's lost rivers, covered over and redirected by centuries of development.

Experts will also examine nearly 700 boxes of pottery pieces, as well as more than 100 fragments of Roman writing tablets recovered from the site.

The current excavations started with the dismantling of a 1960s reconstruction of the Temple of Mithras, a popular visitor attraction when it opened.

At the peak of the dig, more than 60 archaeologists were working at the site.

When work on the new Bloomberg headquarters is completed, the reconstructed Temple of Mithras and finds from the current excavation will be put on public display there.

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