October 2, 2013
20 Roman Skulls Discovered In London River
[ Watch the Video: Roman Skulls Turn Up In London River ]
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineArchaeologists working with London’s Crossrail project have announced the latest discovery brought about by the transit project’s excavations – 20 human skulls. The team of archaeologists said the skulls were probably washed away from burial sites by the Walbrook river, one of London's 'lost' waterways.
“This is an unexpected and fascinating discovery that reveals another piece in the jigsaw of London’s history,” said Jay Carver, a lead archaeologist for Crossrail. “This isn’t the first time that skulls have been found in the bed of the River Walbrook and many early historians suggested these people were killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans.”
“We now think the skulls are possibly from a known Roman burial ground about 50 meters up river from our Liverpool Street station worksite,” he added. “Their location in the Roman layer indicates they were possibly washed down river during the Roman period.”
Diggers also found nearly intact pottery, which was also probably transported by the river. Archaeologists said other, oblong bone fragments would not have been washed as easily down the river.
Before being paved over in the 15th Century, the Walbrook river split London into western and eastern sides. Scientists have said that its muddy walls made for excellent artifact preservation. The newly discovered skulls were found in clusters that indicated they had been caught in a bend in the river.
All of the archaeological samples discovered by the Crossrail project are being analyzed by the Museum of London Archaeology, and researchers there said they have dated the skulls to the 3rd or 4th centuries AD, when Romans buried their citizens outside their settlement as opposed to cremating them.
"What we're looking at here is how the Romans viewed their dead. You wouldn't imagine modern burial grounds being allowed to wash out into a river," Nicholas Elsden from the Museum of London Archaeology, told BBC News.
Don Walker, an osteologist from the museum, said the skulls were most likely buried in different environments, based on their various shades of brown and grey.
"Forensic studies show that when the body disintegrates near a watercourse, the skull travels furthest, either because it floats or it can roll along the base of the river,” Walker said. "They were possibly buried in an area where there wasn't much land available.”
“At the moment it looks as though they've collected together through natural processes,” he added.
Walker said his initial impression was that there was no "foul play" that caused the deaths of these individuals, but further investigations could reveal additional details. He expected that the museum’s work would reveal the sex and age of the individuals and a chemical analysis on the teeth would show where they came from and what food they ate.
The discoveries are the latest associated with the Crossrail project, with archaeologists currently surveying over 40 worksites ahead of the main transit construction. The rail project is expected to result in 37 transit stations that will connect Heathrow Airport to central London and beyond by 2018.