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Rare tools give insight into working lives of Roman Londoners at the Museum of London

12 January 2017

Working the Walbrook

Museum of London

12 January – March 2017

FREE display

The Museum of London has opened its latest display, Working the Walbrook, which reveals artefacts from the lost Walbrook valley and beyond and represents over 170 years of excavation in London.

The Walbrook, one of London’s lost rivers, once cut the city in half from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street station. It may have acted as a boundary, industrial zone, or even a religious site, but for archaeologists it is an important time capsule. The waterlogged earth of the valley has preserved an exceptional collection of rare metal artefacts that give us a unique glimpse into the working lives of Roman Londoners. This display is part of a PhD project supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading. It is the first large-scale project ever undertaken to understand these important objects.

Objects include:

  • Gardening tools - Working the ground in London has a long history, from today’s hipster urban farmers, through allotments and window boxes, to the Roman farming and gardening tools found in the city
  • Iron stamp - this iron stamp has the letters MPBR inscribed in reverse onto its striking surface. This has been read as an abbreviation for Metalla Provinciae Britanniae: ‘the mines of the province of Britannia’. It was perhaps used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent
  • Pot, decorated with smith’s tools (from Southwark) - Objects such as this pot decorated with smith’s tools show that superstition and the supernatural were a key part of Roman industry and everyday life. It is decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs, and was found at the bottom of a timber-lined well in Southwark. It may have been part of a ritual closure deposit, linked to the smith god Vulcan.

Owen Humphreys, PHD student from the University of Reading and display curator, said:

“This project has been a fantastic opportunity to work with the museum’s collections and has given us the most complete image yet of the working communities of Roman London. The wealth of objects found in this area are likely to have been buried in a bid by Roman Londoners to raise their houses above the floodwaters by collecting and dumping their rubbish in the waterlogged soils. They inadvertently left an exceptional archaeological record of their everyday, working lives giving us a rare glimpse of ancient life in the capital.”

The Museum of London has one of the largest collections of Roman tools in Europe, representing a huge variety of activities. Of the 930 tools recorded so far, 678 of them were recovered from the Walbrook Valley.

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