Evidence of funeral rituals from an ancient empire found for the first time
Archaeologists excavating a building site in London have discovered the first Roman mourning furniture. It represents an intact antique burial bed. Skeletal remains and five oak coffins were also discovered at the site.
The excavation site, located near the Holborn Viaduct in London, will eventually be converted into office space for the law firm Hogan Lovells, several British media reports. However, the old Roman cemetery that was on the site now provides insight into London's two thousand year past.
In 47 AD, the Romans founded London, known in antiquity as Londinium, and later built a bridge over the Thames. The settlement served as an important port, with roads connecting it to other Roman outposts in Britain. Representing the nation's "first" Roman burial bed, it was found alongside five oak coffins, adding to a collection of just three Roman wooden coffins.
Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have discovered the first complete burial bed. Experts compared the item to “flat furniture” that was used to carry the deceased to the grave.
Roman artwork often depicts the spirits of the dead lounging on these beds, sipping wine and eating grapes. Such furniture was buried with the dead so that they could use it in their next life.
The funeral bed has carved legs. Meanwhile, the joints were secured with small wooden pegs, and analysis revealed that the artifact was made from "high quality oak." Evidence suggests that the bed was dismantled before being placed in the tomb of a 20- or 30-year-old Roman.
The artifact was discovered in a remarkably well-preserved riverbed that runs beneath the streets of central London.
Project leader Heather Knight explained: "The level of preservation we encountered, and particularly the discovery of such a huge number of wooden finds, really amazed us."
In a statement published in The Guardian, artifact expert Michael Marshall said the Roman bed had been "carefully dismantled and hidden away like packed furniture for another life."
Marshall explained that the discovery site, located outside the walls of the Roman city, was approximately 6 meters below modern ground level. Although the area had been excavated in the 1990s, the discovery of an intact Roman bed was a "complete surprise" and he added that he had "never seen anything like it before".
Michael Marshall also emphasized that the quality of the bed probably indicates that the deceased was a person of high status, as it is "an incredibly well-made piece of furniture... It is one of the most bizarre pieces of furniture ever found in Roman Britain."
Until these recent discoveries, archaeologists only had written evidence of beds being used in Roman funeral processions. These artifacts are also found carved on tombstones. This discovery demonstrates that people were buried on Roman burial beds. But until now there has been no evidence, and this is the first time that conclusive evidence of the use of these artifacts in funerary rites has been found in the country.
Excavations also revealed that there was once a second cemetery on the site, dating back to the 16th century.