A well-preserved Roman mosaic – the largest to be discovered in London for more than 50 years – has been unearthed during archaeological work in the Southwark area, ahead of new construction.
Excavations carried out by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) found the mosaic in what is thought to have been a Roman triclinium, or dining room, at The Liberty of Southwark site. Described as a ‘once-in-lifetime find in London’ by MOLA site supervisor Antonietta Lerz, the ornate floor consists of two richly decorated panels set within a red surround. The biggest features flowers bordered by braided bands, as well as lotus flowers and geometric patterns, such as black triangles and ‘Solomon’s knots’, a cross motif consisting of two interlinking loops. This design has been attributed by David Neal, a former archaeologist with English Heritage, to the ‘Acanthus group’ of mosaicists, who developed their own style in London. It has been dated to the late 2nd to early 3rd century AD, but beneath it traces of an earlier mosaic have been found, evidence of the room’s refurbishment over a longer period of use.
Two Solomon’s knots feature, too, on the simpler design of the smaller panel, which has two stylised flowers and geometric motifs. A similar mosaic has been found in Trier, Germany, raising the possibility that travelling artisans worked in both locations. Fragments of frescoes from the walls have been recovered, further proof of the rich decorations in the room. There are plans to lift the mosaics, and their possible future public display is currently being discussed.
Finds from the site so far suggest that the building – whose complete footprint is yet to be established – was a large complex with a number of rooms and corridors around a central courtyard. This may have been a mansio that provided accommodation to high-ranking travelling officials who required luxury lodgings at this suitable location on the outskirts of Roman Londinium, near both to the river crossing into the city and to a major road leading to other parts of south-eastern Britain.
Another Roman building was found next to this mansio. It was probably a private residence with painted walls and mosaic floors: MOLA archaeologists found jewellery, bone pins, and coins, hinting at the wealth of the occupants.