Excavations carried out in Blomfield Street have uncovered more than 30 skulls from the infilled channel of the ‘lost’ River Walbrook. Thought to be Roman in date, the skulls were found embedded in the lower gravel deposits of the former river. Very few other human bones were found, but with one group there was a preserved horse jaw. Clearly the skulls have been detached from the rest of the skeletons, but how?
Archaeologists have been trying to unravel this mystery since the mid-19th century when ‘hundreds’ of skulls were found during construction work for new sewers and buildings.
One theory is that the skulls could have been washed out of nearby Roman cemeteries by flood water erosion. Other studies note that some of the Walbrook skulls are young males which appear to have suffered serious injuries. Could they be victims of execution, sacrifice, prisoners of war, or slain gladiators from the nearby arena?
Beyond the city wall: Liverpool Street
Liverpool Street is revealing other captivating evidence of Roman London. About 6m below the current pavement level, a perfectly preserved roadway has been discovered complete with a complex foundation design.
We found layers of hard packed gravel that preserve cart tracks and several horse shoes (hipposandals). Two Roman doors were also unearthed. Laid flat on an area adjacent to the edge of the Walbrook River bank, they may be remnants of a timber framed building.
Domestic finds, including fine pottery, coins and jewellery, suggest an extraordinary slice of life is waiting to be revealed once a full excavation of the Roman levels gets underway in the near future.
Roman engineers took special care constructing the 2000-year-old forerunner of Liverpool Street. A roundwood raft foundation was probably used to prevent settlement in the soft ground of the river valley. The road was repaired several times and pot holes and wheel ruts were filled in and resurfaced with compacted gravel.
The Liverpool Street examples are the largest collection of Hipposandals found in Britain so far.
Beyond the city wall: Moorgate
The Moorgate area, north of the Roman City wall and ditch, was well known as a marshy environment right up to the 17th century and remained largely undeveloped by buildings until the 19th century.
Excavations have shown that the site was regularly flooded prior to the Roman period. A single prehistoric worked flint is the only evidence for pre-Roman activity.
In the second century AD two large drainage ditches were cut through the site and fences were set out, represented by several stake holes. We can envisage that the area was being intensively used for Roman farming.
Finds included pottery from rubbish pits which suggest attempts at reclaiming the marshland had begun in the 15th century and building only started on the site in the mid-18th century.
The drainage ditches at Moorgate in the Roman Period probably appeared rather like this water meadow environment in the Netherlands.