Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 6 (Environmental Finds)

And so we’ve reached our last section of the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive. Thanks for playing the LAARC lottery and here are our last two objects for the Day of Archaeology.

The Environmental section of our Archive is the smallest – representative of the small size of the flora and fauna that are processed by flotation through large-scale tanks with small-scale sieves. If you want to see what a raw sample looks like, check out Sarah Matthews (MOLA) ‘dirty’ blog.

First up, our lucky lottery player chose shelf number 43 and our ecofact is a selection of seeds from site archive PRY91, an excavation that took place on the outer reaches of London in the borough of Kingston Upon Thames. This site produced a total of 61 sediment samples and the ecofacts date to the late Iron Age/Roman period. What we have here are cereal grains of wheat/barley. Our Archaeology Collections Manager, Glynn Davis, blogged about a similar ecofact from the City of London. These environmental ‘objects’ are extremely important for understanding cultivated foodstuffs as well as the nature of settlement itself.

Wheat grains from the Iron Age/Roman period

Wheat grains from the Iron Age/Roman period, and from our shelf 43

And so, our last ecofact from a long day’s blogging. So what did shelf 36 have amongst its boxes…of course, it’s a coprolite!

This sample, excavated from site BUF90 – Bull Wharf, Upper Thames Street, was accompanied by a note stating it was ‘hand collected’…archaeologists are known for their odd sense of humour. Need we say more!

Coprolite from BUF90

Coprolite from BUF90 – and shelf 36


And so that brings us to the end of our Day of Archaeology LAARC Lottery. We hope you enjoyed it, we certainly did, and a big thank you to everyone who took part – we couldn’t have done it without you. Apologies also to anyone who suggested a shelf number but didn’t get their object shown – we simply couldn’t do all of them in the time we had – but we hope you found the blogs and posts interesting too.

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 5 (Textile Finds)

Day of Archaeology: Blog 5 – Textiles

Moving onto and into our Leather & Textile store, we have two classic objects chosen by you, completely at random.

Our first randomly selected object, from shelf number 876, is a Roman leather shoe, excavated from site BUC87 – once the heart of Londinium. The LAARC holds over 5000 Roman and medieval shoes (we are the largest Archeological Archive in the world after all) and this artefact is a fine example of its type. The leather sole of the shoe has been preserved through waterlogged conditions but once exposed would quickly dry and shrink. Luckily the Museum ofLondon’s conservation department owns a magic machine called a freeze-dryer which, through the process of sublimation, leaves these leather objects in a very stable condition.

Roman leather shoe

Roman leather shoe from BUC87 – and shelf 876

 A common comment on archaeological Roman shoes is that they always seem very small. The leather may have shrunk somewhat after two millennia in the ground and the freeze-drying process may add minimally to this, but on the whole our Roman Londoners seem to have small feet…Perhaps a comparative study should be conducted with the many Roman skeletal remains held at the Museum’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology!

Our second object is a piece of post-medieval textile from site EAG87  (and shelf 809), excavated by the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) back in the late 1980s. Archaeological textiles suffer from damage to both their texture and colour; however, our Curator of Fashion & Decorative Arts gets particularly excited about brown bits of wool!

Post-medieval cloth

Post-medieval cloth from EAG87 – and shelf 809

Again our textile much like other organics and inorganic, such as metal, has survived through waterlogged but anaerobic conditions. This fragmentary piece was probably part of the C18th backfill of a well excavated on this site.

Our last major store section holds our Environmental finds. These are typically extremely small objects that take up little space (hence the small shelf range) and include objects such as seeds, pollen and small animal bones etc. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us a number below, between 1 and 44 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 4 (Metal Finds)

Now onto our Metal store – this entire store holds a host of treasures, and more coffin nails than you’d care to imagine!

Our first lucky object from shelf 496 comes from site ABO92 – Abbott’s Lane, excavated in 1992 by the then Museum of London Archaeology Service (MOLAS). Being a waterfront site this excavation produced a wealth of metal objects – all surviving due to the aerobic conditions of burial.

Our object is a medieval pilgrim badge that depicts the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570. An additional badge of better condition was also excavated from the site. The cult of Thomas Becket was one of the most popular in London during the medieval period – not surprising as he was also considered the city’s unofficial patron saint. These badges would have been collected at the site of pilgrimage – this one may have therefore travelled all the way from Canterbury in Kent, before being lost or perhaps purposefully discarded. The badge is a miniature imitation of the reliquary of a life-sized mitred bust of Becket that was held in Canterbury Cathedral.


Lead pilgrim badge

Lead pilgrim badge, depicting the mitred head of Thomas Becket dating to c.1530 – 1570, and from shelf 496 of our metal store


Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf

Publication photograph of a similar pilgrim badge to the one found on our shelf (MOLAS Monograph 19)

Our second object, stored on shelf 593, is from the more recent excavation SAT00. Found in the upper stratigraphy this is a beautifully preserved pocket sundial.

Copper sundial

Copper pocket sundial, from shelf 593


A great source for comparison with these metal artefacts is the Portable Antiquities Scheme which holds the records of thousands of objects discovered, mainly through metal detecting, from across the country. Our sundial, excavated from the site of St. Paul’s Cathedral Crypt (SAT00), has a direct parallel with one found in Surrey.

Quoting from PAS object entry SUR-7790B4:

“These sundials are known as simple ring dials or poke dials (‘poke’ being an archaic word for pocket). The sliding collar would be set into position for the month of the year and, when the dial was suspended vertically, the sun would shine through the hole in the lozenge-shaped piece, through the slot, and onto the interior of the ring. The hour could then be read by looking at the closest gradation mark to the spot of light on the interior of the ring.”

Next it’s our Textile artefacts. Again, segregated and stored in a controlled environment, this store is humidified to preserve these important materials. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 784 and 910 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…

Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 3 (Registered Finds)

Here are the results from our registered finds shelf lottery

Shelf seven (suggested by Pat Hadley – thanks Pat) of our Registered finds section of the Archive is the start of a sequence of finds that were excavated before professional archaeology became existed inLondon, during the very early 1970s. At this time theMuseumofLondon’s forbearer – the Guildhall Museum– was undertaking excavations across the city. This object – a classic Roman oil lamp – was excavated on Gracechurch street in 1969.

Roman Lamp from GM69 site

Roman Lamp from GM69 site – and shelf number 7

This Roman lamp is known as a picture lamp, as the central ‘discus’ is decorated. It may be a Loeschecke (1919) Type IV, although difficult to tell as types are usually distinguished by the nozzle, which in this case is broken. It probably dates to the C1st AD and in particular the Boudican revolt as it was discovered in association with a major burnt strata with other C1st pottery.

A very similar lamp has also been discovered on a recent Archive volunteer project – VIP9 – although not in such a good state of preservation! Closer comparison may reveal if it was made from the same two-piece mould, as these objects were mass produced.

Shelf 342 (tweeted by our very own Adam Corsini while on holiday in Sardinia) of our Registered finds stores material from the 1980s, a point in time when archaeology withinLondonhad become highly professionalised – having a major impact on how we eventually archive material and records from excavation.

Our second lucky winner(s) are  fragmentary pieces of medieval window glass. Excavated on the site of the Royal Mint in 1986, this glass may have formed part of the medieval Abbey or Chapter House. By the C16th window glass such as this would have been found more commonly in secular buildings as opposed to religious buildings. Although extremely aesthetic, the array of colours this glass has produced are not intentional – this is actually the glass decomposing, or delaminating, as a result of being buried in the ground for hundreds of years.

Fragments of medieval stained glass from MIN86

Fragments of medieval stained glass from MIN86, and shelf 342

Next it’s our Metal artefacts – these objects are stored separately. A dehumidified store, sealed boxes and silica gel help us maintain these objects to a high degree of preservation as they’d slowly degrade in normal room conditions. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 1 and 628 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds…


Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery Part 2

A big thank you everyone who suggested shelf numbers for our general finds LAARC lottery – we’ve taken the first 6 replies and tweets, and had a rummage around in our shelving, and come up with the following selection of artefacts:

From shelf 1967 we have a large piece of wood, from an unknown object, excavated from the BIG82 site, which amongst other things found the remains of a Roman quay. The proximity of the site close to the Thames allowed for the good preservation of organic remains like wood in the waterlogged soil conditions

Part of wooden object from BIG82 excavation - from shelf 1967

Part of wooden object from BIG82 excavation – from shelf 1967

Next up we have shelf 2019, which produced this piece of medieval pottery from the RAG82 excavation, in the City ofLondon, which resulted in a range of items from Roman, Saxon/Medieval, Medieval and Post Medieval periods

Medieval pottery sherds from RAG82

Medieval pottery sherds from RAG82 – and shelf 2019

Now we move on to shelf 4633, where we found this piece of ceramic building material (CBM) – and which looks to my eye like a part of a stone water pipe or channel (but I’m not an expert on building material so happy to be corrected). It came from site SQU94, the former Spitalfields Market, and may be associated with the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital

Stone water channel? from SQU94 and from shelf 4633

Stone water channel? from SQU94 and from shelf 4633

From shelf 23 we had this set of animal bones, from site WFG3, which was dug back in 1947

Animal bone from WFG3

Animal bone from WFG3 – and shelf 23


For shelf 121 we had the ubiquitous post-medieval clay tobacco pipes – these ones from site GM131 – near the Old Bailey

Post-Medieval clay tobacco pipes

Post-Medieval clay tobacco pipes – from shelf 121

Finally, from shelf 291, and nicely related to the above pipes, we have a rather nice example of debris from a clay tobacco pipe kiln – with unfinished bits of pipes stuck in the waste.


Clay tobacco pipe kiln waste from BRE77

Clay tobacco pipe kiln waste from BRE77 – and shelf 291

Next up it’s our Registered finds: objects assigned an individual number (akin to an museum accession number) because they are of particular interest. Coins would be an obvious example. Tweet using #dayofarch or #LAARC, or message us below, a number between 1 and 816 to discover, completely at random, what that shelf holds… – and we’ll post back our results at 1pm



Day of Archaeology – LAARC Lottery!

LAARC Archive stores

The LAARC archive stores, holding over 2 million objects, and the venue for LAARC lottery!

The London Archaeological Archive & Research Centre (LAARC) – the world’s largest archaeological archive – holds the records for over 8,500 London archaeological sites and millions of excavated objects (especially if we count every ceramic sherd)!

As part of the day of archaeology the LAARC is getting interactive with a little game we like to call ‘LAARC Lottery’.

We have five major areas of the Archive to explore: General finds, Registered finds, Metal, Textile and Environmental.

Each hour from 12 until 5 today we will be exploring some of our archaeological finds interactively and completely randomly, and we will be asking for suggestions from you as to what we look at.

First up we’re exploring our General finds: artefacts that are normally treated as an assemblage – pottery, animal bone, building material etc. – and which make up the bread and butter of London’s archaeological material. We have 6210 shelves of general finds in the archive, so what we would like you to do is suggest a shelf number between 1 and 6210, either by Twitter using the hashtags #dayofarch and #LAARC, or by leaving a comment below, which we will then go to, photograph and blog about the objects we find there.