Museum of London archaeologists have unearthed both the latest Roman and the earliest Anglo-Saxon evidence so far found in the capital. Roman Londinium was largely abandoned by c. AD 400 and it was not until c. AD 650 that Anglo-Saxon Lundenwic established. What happened in between? New rescue excavations at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square are providing some answers, shrinking the gap between the end of Londinium and the origins of Lundenwic to a few decades.
The major discovery was a stone sarcophagus containing the body of a middle-aged man with a radiocarbon date in the range AD 390-430. The sarcophagus had been damaged in 19th century building-work and most of the skull destroyed, but the rest of the body was intact and revealed the deceased to have been about 5’ 6” tall and in his late 30s or early 40s when he died.
Who was this man? Was he part of a small class of elite personnel holding together the last vestiges of Romanitas in the dying days of Roman Britain? St Martin, to whom the present church is dedicated, died in AD 397 on the banks of the River Loire, making him a more or less exact contemporary of the man in the sarcophagus.
The second big discovery was an Anglo- Saxon pot of around AD 500. This creates a chronological bridge between Londinium and Lundenwic. The latter was represented on the site by quality grave-goods of the 7th century – including a beautiful and perfectly preserved gold pendant with glittering glass stone
Hedley Swain, Head of Early London History and Collections at the Museum of London explained, ‘These discoveries mean that the 1980s model of London’s early history is less clearcut,… the new excavation at St Martin’s has undermined the model.
To find out more about these wonderful discoveries and their significance read the full story in issue 213