Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Walbrook and Roman London

Walbrook was once a stream that ran through London, although now most of its water is diverted into sewers and the rest just sort of seeps through the soil. Thanks to a new building going up in this part of the city, the Museum of London Archaeology got to do an extensive dig along the banks of the now vanished stream. They found a lot of stuff, but they are most excited about the Roman finds; that's a Roman fence above, made of oak boards.

They report finding more than 10,000 objects in the Roman layers, exquisitely preserved by the organic muck of Walbrook. Above, an amber charm showing a gladiator's head.

A piece of leather horse harness etched with lovely designs. Click to see the detail.

So great site, amazing discoveries. And almost impossible to learn about. The MOLA has a miserable web presence and they are ridiculously stingy with pictures of their collection. The only way to learn about their work is to buy their reports, which cost about 50 pounds plus shipping. It's absurd. I have been reading newspaper accounts of the Walbrook project for months, but always with just one or two lousy pictures, so I haven't really felt like writing about it. Now, at last, the BBC has extracted a handful of decent images from the MOLA, which you see here. Like the multiply obscene charm above.

If I were doing such a big project in the US -- unless it were in the middle of some top secret military installation -- I would be expected to post a running account online, with regular updates in video or blog form and pictures of the coolest finds. Eventually I would produce my reports in digital form, and they would be posted online where anyone could read them for free. But somehow the MOLA gets away with acting like it is still 1965, and fat paper reports are still the cutting edge of public interpretation. I find this very frustrating. But at least we have these images -- above, pewter vessels from the 4th century -- and maybe someday I will get to London again and be able to visit that cursed museum.

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