Archaeologists in London have discovered a fully preserved wooden funerary bed, the first of its kind found in Britain. The bed, described by experts as “unparalleled”, was unearthed at the site of an ancient Roman cemetery near the Holborn Viaduct in central London, alongside five oak coffins.

Before this excavation, only three Roman wooden coffins had been found in total in the capital. Wood remains from the Roman era in Britain (43-410 AD) are rarely preserved to this day, but because the burial site is in a waterlogged area adjacent to the ancient underground River Fleet, its graves remained well-preserved.

The funerary bed is made of high-quality oak and measures approximately 1.8 meters long. It has carved legs and joints fixed with small wooden nails.

It was disassembled before being placed in the tomb of an adult man aged between 28 and 33 years. It’s practically like a foldable piece of furniture for the afterlife, said Michael Marshall, an artifacts specialist from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola).

Part of the site, outside the walls of the ancient Roman city and 6 meters below modern ground level, had already been excavated in the 1990s. However, the bed was a complete surprise because we had never seen anything like it, said Marshall.

Although there are references to people being transported on beds during funeral processions and sometimes depicted on tombstones, it was not known that people were buried in Roman beds.

Personal items recovered from other graves include glass and bone beads, a glass jar still containing organic remains, and a decorated lamp dating back to the first period of Roman occupation between 43 and 80 AD. The lamp is adorned with the design of a defeated gladiator, a significant symbol in a funerary context.

We are discovering subtle details about how the ancient Romans mourned their dead through the analysis of these burials, said Marshall.

Archaeological teams continue to excavate the cemetery to better understand the burial practices and customs of the time.


The Guardian | Miami Herald | MOLA

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