Bookmarked The Dead Beneath London's Streets by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie (Smithsonian)
Human remains dating back to the Roman Empire populate the grounds below the surface, representing a burden for developers but a boon for archaeologists
Linda Rodriguez McRobbie discusses an exhibition showcasing some of the archeological discoveries in London. This is not only an insight into the past, but also the way the past is kept and what stories are able to be told. Many discovers have been lost in time, either thrown in the rubbish or sureptiously added to private collections.


This history of London, punctuated by the ebb and flow of populations, means that the physical remains of countless Londoners sit just there, under the pavements. Heathrow Airport? Construction uncovered fragments of a Neolithic monument, bronze spearheads, a Roman lead font, an early Saxon settlement, and medieval coins, evidence of 9,000 years of near-continuous human habitation. Just feet from the MI6 building – the one blown up in Skyfall – archaeologists discovered the oldest structure in London: 6,000-year-old Mesolithic timber piles stuck deep in the Thames foreshore, the remains of a structure that once sat at the mouths of the Thames and the River Effra. In the basement of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in the heart of the City, there’s a modern shrine honoring an ancient temple, the Roman Mithraeum, built in 240 A.D. next to the river Walbrook to honor the Roman god Mithras.

Parliament passed legislation the following year requiring developers to plan to manage a site’s history before obtaining permission; if a developer is unable to preserve finds in situ, which is preferred, there must be a plan to preserve them in record or offsite. But, crucially, developers are required to pay for everything, from the site assessments to the excavation itself

without the need to constantly reinvent this ancient city, archaeologists would never get the chance to see what (or who) is under those office blocks and terraced houses.