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Rare Mural from Roman Era Uncovered in London

Nearly 20 feet (6 meters) below the streets of London, archaeologists discovered a fragile Roman painting featuring deer and birds that may have once decorated the wall of a wealthy citizen's home. Continue reading →

Nearly 20 feet (6 meters) below the streets of London, archaeologists discovered a fragile Roman painting featuring deer and birds that may have once decorated the wall of a wealthy citizen's home.

Excavators from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) were carefully digging for Roman artifacts at 21 Lime Street, near Leadenhall Market in central London, ahead of the construction of an office building at the site.

They say the newly uncovered fresco was discovered facedown in the soil. The painted wall was likely toppled and sealed underground around A.D. 100, when Roman builders flattened the area to make way for construction of the civic center for the city, the forum basilica. [See Images of the Roman Fresco]

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Paintings are far more fragile than stone and metal artifacts, so not many ancient wall murals survive intact in the archaeological record. There are famous examples from Pompeii, the city that was preserved in volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. But in London, complete paintings are much more scarce, though fragments of Roman wall plaster have been found before, MOLA archaeologists said. The newfound fresco, its painted surface just a millimeter thick, may be one of the oldest artworks of its kindto survive from the time of Roman Britain, they added.

At the construction site on Lime Street, the painted plaster was lifted from the ground in 16 sections, still encased in dirt. Only after a "microexcavation" in a lab were the archaeologists able to see what the surviving section of the painting looked like: It had red panels on the sides and at the center, there were green and black vertical panels with deer reaching their necks up to nibble attrees above a set of blue-green birds and a vine woven around a candle holder.What's left of the fresco measures about 8 feet (2.5m) across and 5 feet (1.5 m) high.

"This was a really challenging but rewarding conservation project," Liz Goodman, an archaeological conservator for MOLA, said 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."

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The researchers are still studying the painting and the archaeological records from the site to get a better idea of what life was like in this section of the city during the Roman period, but they said the painting most likely adorned the wall of a reception room of a private home where guests were entertained.

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In total, the surviving section of the artwork measures 8 feet across and 5 feet high. It may have decorated the reception room of a wealthy person’s home.

Italian archaeologists digging in a small Tuscan village have unearthed part of what they believe is a large and impressive ancient Roman mosaic. The artwork lies in a private property next to a local road in the village Capraia e Limite.

Ancient Roman Mosaic Found in Tuscany

One mosaic, dating to the second half of the 4th century AD, shows geometric patterns framed by floral motifs. The other, dating to the 5th century AD, boasts octagons decorated with animals, flowers and a human bust.

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The large mosaic graced the floor of a luxurious Roman villa that stood in the Tuscan countryside for four centuries, from the 1st to the beginning of the 6th century AD. Evidence of the villa was first found in 1983, when workers digging to build an orchard unearthed an inscription mentioning one of the owners of the complex. It read: Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, referring to one of the most famous pagan senators of the later 4th century AD.

Photos: Excavating an Ancient Villa

In the beginning of the 6th century AD, the villa was completely abandoned and plundered of any material that could be recycled. Luckily, the floor mosaics could not be removed. Excavations in 2013 brought to light a stunning oval mosaic with a wild boar hunting scene which dates to the second half of the 4th century AD. Because of legal issues and lack of funding, the mosaic was covered soon after its discovery in order to preserve it.

1500-Year-Old Mosaic Map Found

The finding prompted new investigations. Archaeologists Lorella Alderighi of the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany, and Federico Cantini of the University of Pisa, speculated the floor mosaic extends further. In fact, parts of two floor mosaics came to light.

The older mosaic consisted of geometric patterns framed by red decorations with acanthus and vine leaves in various shades of grey, blue and black.

The other mosaic, dating to the 5th century AD, displayed scenes with animals, flowers, geometric patterns framed by octagons. At the center of one of the octagons is the bust of a man with a tunic and large eyes.

According to the archaeologists, the investigated portion of the villa had an hexagonal structure with rooms opening onto a central hall.

The archaeologists estimate the size of the floor mosaic to be about 300 square meters (984 square feet). They only have unearthed one-eighth of it. Unfortunately, most of the mosaic lay beneath an industrial shed. Although the archaeologists believe the artwork is still intact, it's unlikely it will be brought to light in the near future.

The newly unearthed mosaics have been already covered for preservation -- like the mosaic with the hunting scene. Alessandro Giunti, mayor of Capraia e Limite, said that at least one mosaic, the one featuring the wild boar hunting scene, will be restored and displayed in the near future.