Archaeologists in London may have discovered some missing pieces of the city’s early history. A team digging at the northern end of Trafalgar Square found evidence that Saxon London’s center was larger and extended further west long ago than previously believed.

The excavation took place as part of a renovation project celebrating the 200th anniversary of the National Gallery. While previous digs in the area turned up some Anglo-Saxon leftovers, this is the first time artifacts clearly showed people were living near the current gallery site over a thousand years before it was built.

Among the buried treasures uncovered were remnants of an ancient home, including postholes where supports once stood and stakes that may have held up fences or walls.

Ditches and trenches from that time were also found, indicating property lines and boundaries were in flux as the neighborhood developed.

One fascinating find was a medieval firepit carbon-dated to between 659-774 AD. Getting an actual date range for items over a millennium old is pretty rad. It shows Saxons were settling in this western suburb of their city of Lundenwic back then, during that century.

Above the Anglo-Saxon layers sat medieval and early modern walls, the oldest one estimated to be from the 1600s-1700s. The team noticed the walls were fixed up and changed over the following centuries as the area transformed.

Lead archaeologist Stephen White said digging at such a major London landmark as the National Gallery was a killer opportunity.

Not only did they discover evidence the city center stretched farther than maps showed, but they got to share what they found with local school groups, taking archaeology out of the textbook.

National Gallery director Sarah Younger praised the hard work that went into the dig. She noted everything built now will impact London’s narrative going forward, so properly understanding the past is important.

Younger gave a shout-out to the construction team for bringing students to get hands-on with history. The gallery’s story clearly goes deeper than what hangs on the walls.

It’s always exciting when archaeological work adds previously unknown context and chapters to the story of cities like London.

This project unearthed new clues about how the metropolis evolved right under its present-day streets.


Sources

The National Gallery | Archaeology South-East


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