Roman remains set to tell story of death and burial in new exhibition

PUBLISHED: 09:00 03 June 2018

Items on display at the new Museum of London Docklands exihbition Picture: Emerson Wolff

Items on display at the new Museum of London Docklands exihbition Picture: Emerson Wolff


A 1,600-year-old sarcophagus, the remains of a headless dog, the tombstone of a 10-year-old girl and skeletons of people from Roman London help tell a story of death and burial in ancient times.

Items on display at the new Museum of London Docklands exihbition Picture: Emerson WolffItems on display at the new Museum of London Docklands exihbition Picture: Emerson Wolff

‘Roman Dead: Death and Burial in Roman London’ is the newest exhibit at the Museum of London Docklands.

Exhibit curator Jackie Keily said the display will give visitors a closer understanding of Roman London, especially the People who lived during this time.

“Death was something, as it still is for us, that was all around,” Ms. Keily said.

The exhibit addresses numerous questions about death and burial in Roman London.

Visitors to the West India Quay museum can learn where cemeteries were located, how people grieved the death of loved ones, what kinds of objects the deceased were buried with and the practices of cremation and inhumation.

The centrepiece of the exhibit is a 1,600-year-old stone sarcophagus recovered from Southwark last June. In order to successfully remove it from the ground, excavators had to build a wooden frame around the coffin and lift it by crane.

Other objects – jewellery, cremation urns and tombstones – along with inhumations, cremations and human remains of people who lived in Roman London reveal a diverse and vibrant ancient city.

“London was this melting pot of people from all over the empire,” said Dr. Rebecca Redfern, exhibit curator and bioarchaeologist. “They created a fusion of culture.”

The curators tried to reflect this diversity in the skeletal inhumations they chose to display. Visitors can view the skeleton of a man believed to be a Roman soldier and a woman of black African ancestry, among several others.

Visitors can even see the impressions of a man’s ribs, spine and knee joints well preserved in a wooden coffin, a rare occurrence.

The humans, however, only tell part of the story. The objects buried with the dead not only reveal details about the deceased person, but also the family members left behind.

“Your heart wrenches when you read more about these people and their experiences,” exhibit curator Meriel Jeater said.

‘Roman Dead’ is free and open to the public until October 28.

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