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Piecing together burials and beliefs in Roman London
Roman Dead is the latest major exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands.
Last year, a Roman sarcophagus was found near to Harper Road in Southwark. As only the third sarcophagus discovered in London since 1999, archaeologists at Pre-Construct Archaeology began working immediately to reveal its secrets, and what the unique find tells us about the ancient city that 8 million people now call home.
The sarcophagus will be placed on public display for the first time, alongside the skeletons and cremated remains of 28 Roman Londoners found during archaeological excavations of ancient cemeteries. The exhibition also features over 200 objects from burials in Roman London, exploring how people dealt with death in Londinium. Many items were brought here from across the Empire, showing the extent of London's international connections, even at this early time in its history.
Roman Dead uses these grave goods and the results of scientific analysis of ancient Londoners' skeletons to explore who Roman Londoners were, and show the city's diverse past.
Objects on display include tombstones, jewellery and cremation urns of varying shapes and sizes. The charred remains of food and vessels that may have contained drinks help to shed light on how Roman Londoners prepared their friends and family for their journey to the afterlife.
Throughout the exhibition's run the museum will host a range of activities and events for families and adults who want to learn more about the Roman dead. For a full list of these events visit our Roman Dead events page.
Take a closer look at the exhibition's most fascinating objects by exploring our interactive page.
Look out for Wifi points throughout the exhibition to gain access to exclusive content and commentary from Roman Dead co-curators Jackie Keily, Meriel Jeater and Dr. Rebecca Redfern.
This exhibition contains human remains of Roman adults and children.
Groups of 10 or more can book an exclusive introductory tour from one of the exhibition curators. For more information visit our group bookings pages.
Highlight objects on display in the exhibition include:
Grave goods discovered at Roman burial sites across London
- Gold ring with intaglio: This fine gemstone ring shows two mice eating together, which is a reference to a story from 'Satires', a work by Roman writer Horace.
- Medusa pendant made of jet: Jet was frequently found in ancient graves, as Romans believed the material possessed magical properties which could protect the dead on their journey to the Underworld. This example was discovered in the burial of a woman from Hooper Street, Tower Hamlets.
Inhumations, cremations and human remains of Londoners from across the Roman Empire
- Stone sarcophagus from Harper Road, Southwark: The most recent sarcophagus discovered in London. When found, the lid was partly opened, suggesting it had been disturbed at some stage by grave robbers.
- Burial of a man in a wooden coffin: Made from re-used timber planks, this coffin was a tight fit for the man inside, meaning that his feet were pressed up against the end. One of the best preserved Roman coffins in London, an impression of the man's ribs, spine and knee joints is clearly visible in the wood.
Mysterious burials showing unusual rituals and practices
- Four skulls of men showing signs of violent death: 40 male skulls, aged between 18 and 35 were discovered in waterlogged pits near London Wall. Many of these skulls showed signs of multiple blunt - and sharp - force traumas which had caused their deaths.
“Roman London was a diverse city which drew people from across the Empire. The exhibition explores this story and shows that though London was on the Empire's fringes, people and their ancestors travelled here from Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean.”Meriel Jeater, Curator, Museum of London
“Roman Dead draws upon the Museum of London's world renowned collection of human remains and grave goods, in particular showcasing objects that haven't previously been displayed. Archaeology in London is a resource that keeps on producing new and exciting discoveries, such as the Harper Road sarcophagus and the wonderful glass bowl from Prescott Street, both of which will be on display in the exhibition.”Jackie Keily, Senior Curator, Prehistory and Roman, Museum of London