CRF Blog

London’s Big Dig Reveals Amazing Layers of History

by Bill Hayes

In London’s Big Dig Reveals Amazing Layers of History, National Geographic looks at recent archaeological discoveries about the city.

Peel back the pavement of a grand old city like London and you can find just about anything, from a first-century Roman fresco to a pair of medieval ice skates — even an elephant’s tooth. As one of Europe’s oldest capitals, London has been continuously lived in and built over by a succession of Romans, Saxons, Normans, Tudors, Georgians, Regency rakes, and Victorians, each of whom added to the pile. As a result the modern city sits atop a rich archaeological layer cake that’s as much as 30 feet high.

The challenge for archaeologists is that London is also a bustling metropolis of more than eight million inhabitants, chock-full of busy streets and skyscrapers and monumental architecture. Opportunities to lift the concrete veil and poke around in the artifact-rich soil tend to be few and brief. But a perfect storm of landmark engineering projects and a building boom in the archaeological heart of London has provided an unprecedented chance to peek beneath the surface and explore the city’s deep past.

The resulting haul of archaeological goodies has been almost overwhelming. They include millions of artifacts covering the vast sweep of human history along the River Thames — from the early Mesolithic, some 11,000 years ago, to the late Victorian, at the end of the 19th century. The discoveries also include the bones of thousands of rank-and-file Londoners who died and were buried in graveyards that were built over and forgotten centuries ago. [more]