Rare mosaic floor found at construction site in London’s Southwark

MOLA conservators are expected to be on the site starting this week to assess the…

MOLA conservators are expected to be on the site starting this week to assess the mosaics and later transport them to the museum for conservation. The long-term plan is for the mosaics to be put on display.

Antonietta​ Lerz, a senior archaeologist at MOLA who supervised the excavation with her colleague Dave Saxby, described the mosaics in an email to The Washington Post as a “once-in-a-lifetime” find because of their “size, rarity and preservation.”

When the Romans ruled over Britain from the mid-1st to the early 5th century, they established their capital, Londinium, where the city of London is now — which is why Southwark is known to contain many Roman relics. Previous discoveries on the site include coins, jewelry and copper bowls.

A news release announcing the discovery on Tuesday said the largest of the two mosaic panels is from the late 2nd to early 3rd century, while the room it was in “was clearly in use for a longer period of time.”

“Astonishingly, traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the one currently visible have been identified,” the release says. “This shows the room was refurbished over the years, perhaps to make way for the latest trends.”

“Combined, the two panels form the largest area of decorated mosaic discovered in London in the past 50 years,” MOLA’s Lerz told The Post. “Not only do we have the mosaics, but we can see part of the room in which they were laid.” Signs indicate that it was either the dining room of a wealthy house, she said, or of a mansio, a Roman resting house for travelers.

“Given the size of the dining room and its lavish decoration, it is believed that only high-ranking officers and their guests would have used this space,” the news release states. “The complete footprint of the building is still being uncovered, but current findings suggest this was a very large complex, with multiple rooms and corridors surrounding a central courtyard.”

The condition of the mosaic is “remarkable,” Lerz said, given the extent of the changes that have taken place in Southwark in the past 1,800 years, including “the 17th-to-19th-century development of the site.”

The mosaic is significant because its panels “speak to us about the character of the area and the people who lived there,” she said. “It was a diverse area, but this discovery shows there were also fine buildings and homes where the prosperous in society lived.” A large Roman building has also been discovered near the site of the Liberty of Southwark that archaeologists believe was a wealthy family’s private residence.

The mosaic “illustrates the rich and complex history of this site and London as a whole,” said Puja Jain, senior property developer at Transport for London, which is developing the Liberty of Southwark along with the real estate firm U+I. Henrietta Nowne, senior development manager for U+I, said in the news release, “We never expected a find on this scale or significance.”