In 2017 a rare Roman sarcophagus was excavated from Harper Road in Southwark; a site that archaeological research has shown was part of a large Roman cemetery. Today, the Museum of London Docklands reveals that this remarkable discovery will be on display for the first time in a major new exhibition, Roman Dead , which opens on 25th May 2018.
London’s complex Roman burial landscape is an important source of historical knowledge, providing insight into Romans’ religious beliefs and their treatment of the dead. This new exhibition will investigate the cemeteries of ancient London, examining the discoveries that were made there and their context within today’s modern cityscape.
Exotic grave goods from across the Roman Empire are just some of over 200 objects on display. Highlighted are an expensive multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains and a jet pendant in the form of Medusa’s head, thought to protect the dead, perhaps on their journey to the Underworld. The exhibition will explore themes of cremation, inhumation and ritual as well as some unusual and sometimes disturbing burial practices. Deviant burials will include a number of men’s skulls which show signs of a violent death and were buried in pits by London Wall in the City of London.
Opening at the Museum of London Docklands, a site synonymous with London’s history, the exhibition examines important questions about death in Roman London whilst exploring the latest research into beliefs around afterlife and funerary practice.
“We are incredibly excited to display the Harper Road sarcophagus publically for the very first time as part of our Roman Dead exhibition. Discoveries of this kind are rare and reveal new stories and alter perspectives of our great city. We will also be displaying skeletons from the eastern parts of Roman London, and the fascinating grave goods buried with them. Visitors will be encouraged to question the evidence and join in the discussion, as we look to advance the knowledge of the city that we share with these ancient Londoners.”
Jackie Keily, Senior Curator, Prehistory and Roman, at the Museum of London, said: “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 Prescot Street. We hope our visitors will gain an insight into Roman Londoners relationship with death through these wonderful artefacts and through the expert analysis that has been undertaken on the skeletal remains recovered from ancient London.”