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Rare Roman funerary bed discovered in London

Archaeologists working in central London have discovered a burial site containing a wooden bed used in a Roman funeral.

A team from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) made the find near Holborn Viaduct, in the heart of central London, six meters (20 feet) below modern street level.

Depictions of beds being used as part of funerals are common in Roman art. However, the bed found at this site, preserved by the damp mud of the underground River Fleet, is the first complete example ever discovered in Britain.

Made from high-quality oak, the bed has carved feet, and joints fixed with small wooden pegs. Reminiscent of modern-day flatpack furniture, it was taken apart before being placed within the grave.

In a statement, Heather Knight, project officer at MOLA, said, the level of preservation of the wooden finds “has really blown us away.”

This decorated Roman lamp from a cremation was also found at the site. - Museum of London Archaeology
This decorated Roman lamp from a cremation was also found at the site. - Museum of London Archaeology

Michael Marshall, a MOLA finds specialist, told CNN that “Roman wooden furniture only survives under exceptional circumstances” and that the bed is unique “in being dismantled and placed in the ground complete.”

These Roman finds are just the latest layer to be revealed in the site’s slice through London’s history. According to MOLA, their excavations have also revealed there was another cemetery on the site during the 16th century.

After the devastation of the Great Fire of London in 1666, the site saw new life, with the construction of houses, shops, and a pub, which were eventually replaced by Victorian warehouses.

In its latest chapter, the site is being transformed into office space for global law firm Hogan Lovells, which intends to display some of the archaeological finds.

Alongside skeletal remains, the archaeologists also dug up personal objects in the Roman site, such as beads, a glass vial and a decorated lamp.

Marshall said the discovery of such artifacts in the final resting place of some of Roman London’s first residents allows archaeologists to further “explore how furniture might have played a role” in Roman funerals and “shines a new light” on such rituals.

The latest finds follow the discovery last year of an “incredibly rare” Roman mausoleum beneath a construction site in south London, close to the Thames River’s south bank.

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