Tuesday, 15 May 2012

165 Great Dover Street

For the 5th session of 'Digging the Dirt' I talked about the 1996-7 excavation I was on at Great Dover Street, London. This site lay on the route of Roman Watling Street with burials and structures associated with it. 

The primary structures were part of a cemetery set out in the mid 2nd century, including a temple-mausoleum (B2) 8m x 8m and set back from the road. A central cella was surrounded by a wall with an integral well and a base for probable altar. 

Associated with this structure was a pit, or bustum, used in the cremation process, the remains being of a woman. The finds were a remarkable collection of pottery tazze and lamps, these having images of the Egyptian deity Anubis and one with an image of a gladiator. The soil samples taken showed a collection of uncooked plant remains, mostly from the Mediterranean, with the image of a feast being laid out for the woman's journey to the underworld. 

Between the mid 2nd and 3rd centuries three other structures were built closer to the road. One had a centrally located foundation, probably for a tomb and nearby was found an amphora buried upright and contained nails. This may have originally been used for libations during rituals. Within the rubble of this building was unearthed a carved pine cone along with moulded cornice fragments. A bearded god of a possible water deity was made of oolitic limestone, probably decorating a funerary monument. 

One find was of particular interest to me. It was a ceramic tettina, an example of which I found at a site at Dagenham some years before. 

There is no definitive answer as to what they were used for (as far as I know-any answers?), one suggestion being that they were 'weaning' cups.  

These structures were associated with a number of inhumations and cremations, some of which held lovely glass vessels, pottery (a fragment had some graffito on it - IIIIXXX = 34) and lamps.        

These structures show that high class mausolea were used by private wealthy families over a number of generations running parallel with Watling Street leading into London. This site is a great help in adding to our knowledge of cemeteries surrounding London during the Roman occupation. It also showed how the Romans built roads to last. It took two of use several hours to cut a slot through it, by hand!

All illustrations from Archaeology Studies Series 4 (Tony Mackinder) MoLA.

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