A glass dish made up of hundreds of indented glass petals and described as “an unprecedented find” has gone on display at the Museum of London Docklands.
When found the millefiore dish, which was discovered in East London by L – P : Archaeology, was “highly fragmented” and was being held together by just the earth surrounding it.
The blue translucent petals have been painstakingly reassembled by Museum of London Archaeology conservator Liz Goodman. Originally the petals would would have been embedded in a bright red opaque glass matrix.
The museum describes the dish as “extremely rare and an unprecedented find, not only from London but from across the Western Roman empire.”
Speaking on Wednesday Goodman said: “Piecing together and conserving such a complete artefact offered a rare and thrilling challenge. We occasionally get tiny fragments of millefiori, but the opportunity to work on a whole artefact of this nature is extraordinary. The dish is extremely fragile but the glasswork is intact and illuminates beautifully nearly two millennia after being crafted.”
Museum officials say such dishes were popular in the 1st and early 2nd centuries and dating is being underway to establish the precise period of the find.
The dish formed part of the grave goods of a Roman Londoner whose cremated remains were uncovered, probably buried in a wooden container, in a cemetery in Londinium’s Eastern quarter. A number of other ceramic and glass vessels were also ranged along the sides of the casket, suggesting a rich and unusual burial.
The excavations at Prescot Street have continued the process of the recording of the extensive eastern cemetery of Roman London which, by law, lay outside the city wall. This and previous excavations have found both cremations and inhumations (burial of the body) that spanned over 400 years of Roman occupation from the late 1st to early 5th century. This burial came from an area of intense burials at the eastern end of the site where there was also a stone mausoleum, a possible funerary structure and a series of burial groups which perhaps indicate the on-going use of cemetery plots. Indeed, this particular burial had, at a later date, had another cremation burial interred on the same spot which may point to a family connection.
Guy Hunt, Director, L – P : Archaeology said: “The dig at Prescot Street produced an amazing range of Roman cemetery archaeology; it is fantastic for us that one of the many finds is such an exciting and beautiful object. It is great to be able to put an object such as this into context and to get a first hand impression of a rather wealthy east Londoner.”