An archaeological gem, unearthed by builders from Galliard Construction, has been moved to the Museum of London, where its contents will be exhumed.

Earlier this year Galliard Construction workers, who are currently building a new residential development in the prime location of Harper Road, came across a rare Roman sarcophagus, leaving experts astounded by this unusual discovery.

This is an exceptional find for London, where only two similar late Roman sarcophagi have been discovered in their original place of burial in recent years: one from St Martin-in-the Fields near Trafalgar Square (2006) and one from Spitalfields in 1999.

The excavation, which began in January this year, revealed a large robber trench around the coffin and found that the lid had been moved, suggesting that the coffin was discovered and robbed in the past. However, it is possible that only the precious items were removed, and the less valuable artefacts, such as the body itself, still remain within the stone sarcophagus.

Southwark and the City of London are remarkable in being the only two London Boroughs that have their own, in-house, dedicated archaeologist. Southwark Council champions archaeology and has dedicated planning policies to ensure that the borough’s ancient history is identified, protected and managed for future generations. The Harper Road excavation is just one of the many archaeological projects that are currently running across Southwark.

Acorn Property Group, which is working in partnership with Galliard Homes and Otterlo London on this development to transform the new space in Trinity Village, have also been keen to develop the site sympathetically, without detriment to its historic surroundings.

Stephen Conway, CEO of Galliard Homes siad “This is a remarkable discovery and I am delighted that we were able to work with the council to ensure the safe passage of this archaeological gem to the Museum of London.

“This incredible find will add even more to the rich history of the area and the stunning new residential development which will stand upon its site. I’m sure buyers will be thrilled that they too can enjoy a slice of seminal history. ”

Recent archaeological research has shown that this area of Roman Southwark is the focus of ritual activity. The area further forms a complex ritual landscape containing various religious and funerary monuments and a vast dispersed Roman cemetery (sites such as Dickens Square, Lant Street and Trinity Street) incorporating a range of burial practices, often with exotic grave goods sourced from across the Roman Empire.

The burial of a 14-year-old girl from nearby Lant Street was one of the richest internments from the Southwark cemetery and is without parallel in Britain; her 4th century chalk-burial contained a bone inlay box, an ivory clasp knife depicting a leopard, and glassware.

Roman London was a multi-cultural city, with a population spanning the empire and adding to the mix of different religious practices and beliefs. If the skeleton survives within the sarcophagus it will be a fascinating contribution to current archaeological research.

Gillian King, Senior Planner: Archaeology, at Southwark Council, added “In my long archaeological career I have excavated many hundreds of burials, but this is the first Roman sarcophagus I have ever discovered, still surviving in its original place of deposition. I have seen them in museums, but I think part of me believed that they had probably all been found by now!

“It really is a very special discovery. Personally, I find it really fascinating to contemplate that this area – which we are now so familiar with – was once, during the Roman period, so completely different. It really does make me feel very honoured that my role at Southwark Council contributes to protecting amazing archaeological treasures like this, and our work means that we can ensure that the historic environment is championed and preserved for the enjoyment of us and future generations.”

Cllr Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Council / Cllr Mark Williams, Southwark Council cabinet member for regeneration and new homes, said “This is a remarkable and exciting find. In Southwark we take our duty as custodians of the borough’s rich, varied and important archaeological heritage very seriously.

“This Roman sarcophagus is the find of a lifetime and a credit to the council’s commitment to ensuring that the borough’s history is properly conserved.”

The structure designed to contain the crumbling casing surrounding the dangerous ruins of reactor 4 takes another great leap forward in its uncertain journey to completion. It has now been announced that the two sections of the giant containment building have been joined together in Chernobyl.

The ‘New Safe Confinement’ now stands at 360ft tall, 541ft long and 853ft wide. Its frame is constructed from a lattice of steel tube sections built on two longitudinal concrete beams – weighing in at an impressive 30,000 tons. To put that into context, it will be almost 4 times the height of Big Ben, over the length of two professional football pitches and nearly as wide as two Westminster Abbey’s. Not to mention a weigh equating to a herd of approximately 6667 fully grown Elephants!
Plans to create a new container to house the poor, leaky structure of the original makeshift sarcophagus were made as early as 1992, but construction work didn’t actually begin until September 2010. Since then it has consistently been plagued by funding issues. The cost of the entire plan is estimated to be €2.15bn, or £1.7bn. A construction such as this has never needed to be built anywhere else in the world, or had such costly obstacles and issues that needed to be addressed throughout every stage of construction.
The structure is comprised of two separate sections that were built offsite at a safe distance from the reactor, so as not to put the workers at prolonged risk of radiation exposure. The building implements two heavy duty cranes on rails that were used to slide the New Safe Confinement into place over the ruins of the reactor. It will purportedly be tornado-proof and will stand efficiently and safely for 100 years. It will also contain all the equipment required to deconstruct the old structure from within, as well as the damaged reactor.
Nuclear Safety Director at the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), Vince Novak said “This is another major step forward. The construction of the steel structure is nearing completion. We are confident that all work will be concluded by end-2017 as planned.”
There is still a lot of work to be done until the structure is completed and can be positioned in its final destination. The official date for completion is now the end of 2017; a two year extension on the original date given of 2015. This is because the project is reportedly currently running short of money, €600m behind by the end of the year, to be exact. Also casting a dark shadow over the project are proposed government sanctions that will freeze construction work within the Ukraine; all alarming obstacles that could potentially trip the Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Plan on its rocky road to success.
On 26th April 1986, during a safety check, reactor 4 of the Chernobyl power plant experienced a meltdown that could not be contained. As a result, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people have died as either a direct result of fallout or from subsequent radiation-related illnesses. It is also estimated that over £111.7 billion worth of damage was caused by the disaster. These astounding figures prove that regardless of who is considered responsible for the accident, cleaning up Chernobyl is of worldwide concern. If another reactor had blown during the meltdown, Chernobyl could have rendered the whole of Europe uninhabitable.
The sheer scale and paramountcy of this project cannot be overstated. As you read this the old sarcophagus is crumbling, threatening to release 200 tons of radioactive material into the environment. All eyes are on the Ukraine as they painstakingly press forward, working tirelessly on arguably the most important structure of the 21st Century.