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TYOK London archaeologist Sarah Watson
Scott Chasserot

Things you only know if you’re a London archaeologist

Written by
James FitzGerald

…according to Sadie Watson, 44.

Roman London wasn’t so different

I work for Museum of London Archaeology, and led excavations ahead of the building of Bloomberg’s new headquarters in the City. We dug up whole Roman streets there, and with them, clues about the very first Londoners. Then, just like now, the place was a multinational melting pot of different nationalities. Although it does also seem to have been a very male-dominated city.

Rubbish can be gold

Lots of what we found on the Bloomberg dig was junk left by the Romans. They created so much of it they even used it for building, piling it up to level out the sloping land. On a humble wooden tablet we found the earliest known written mention of London, or “Londinio” as it was called in AD 80. In a very British way, stuff like this was preserved by damp conditions thanks to the underground River Walbrook.

New builds are great news for archaeologists

People often ask if I’m unhappy with building work in London. They think it’s going to cover up precious archaeology. But actually, developers are by far our largest investors: they’re obliged to fund excavations before building on the land. I’m often found working on an active construction site.

Penises are buried everywhere

You dig them up all over the place. Previous generations were way less prudish than we often think. Recently we found a phallic Roman amulet, worn round the neck. And I’ll never forget unearthing an eighteenth-century penis-shaped drinking vessel. That was in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, of all places, and let’s just say it was pretty anatomically correct. It ended up on page 3 of The Sun.

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