Roman-Era Fresco Revealed in London
An ornate Roman wall painting buried for 2,000 years has been unearthed from 20 feet below a street in London.
Dating to the late 1st century AD, the multicolored artwork—depicting deer nibbling trees, birds, fruit and a vine—is one of the earliest surviving frescos from Roman Britain, the Museum of London Archaeology reported in an announcement on the discovery.
The hand-painted fresco was most likely hung in a reception or entertainment room in the home of one of London’s first wealthy citizens, experts noted.
According to MOLA, the painted wall was likely knocked down by the ancient Romans in 100 AD to make way for the second Forum Basilica, a large civic building. The project reportedly sealed the fresco in the ground.
A Rare Find
The discovery was made earlier this month as excavators from the MOLA were conducting fieldwork in central London ahead of the construction of an office building.
The painted wall was revealed face down and was identified from distinctive markings of the keyed daub onto which the plaster was attached, MOLA reported.
Natural earth pigments were used to create the painting, according to conservators.
Archeological conservators lifted the soil-encased fresco out of the site in 16 sections.
The team then took the sections to the lab to quickly to “micro-excavate” the soil while it was still damp, exposing the millimeter-thin painted surface beneath, MOLA said. The discovered portion of the fresco measures about 8 feet across and is 5 feet high.
The fresco was painted by a gifted artist using natural earth pigments, except one area of red which is picked out in cinnabar—an expensive mercuric sulphide pigment mined in Spain, the conservators noted.
Further, MOLA suggests that there may have been multiple craftsman painting the wall and that they may have been working with a pre-prepared template.
“This was a really challenging but rewarding conservation project,” said MOLA archaeological conservator Liz Goodman in a statement. “We were up against the clock working on this huge and fragile fresco, but it was a joy to uncover the decorative plaster that hadn't been seen for nearly 2,000 years.”