Manual The Archaeology of Roman London: The Upper Walbrook Valley in the Roman Period

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There is no evidence of decapitation. All but one of these individuals have dental defects. The defect indicate the individuals teeth stopped growing during childhood as a result of disease or nutritional deficiencies.


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These skulls were given to the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons during the Victorian period and were transferred to the Natural History Museum in the late s. Dr Heather Bonney. Dr Rachel Ives. Jennifer White. Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research. We use cookies and similar technologies to optimise your experience when using this site and to help tailor our digital advertising on third party sites.

View our Cookie Policy and our new Privacy notice. Cannon Street collection. A series of skulls from Cannon Street. The remains of seven Romans unearthed in Cannon Street in Male 2. Female 2. Indeterminates 3. Buried in river soil Three of the individuals from Cannon Street have dark reddish-brown staining that is indicative of burial in alluvial river soil. Dental defects All but one of these individuals have dental defects. The scene on the Tauroctony depicts Mithras slaying the cosmic bull surrounded by Cautes, with the burning torch, and Cautopates, with unflamed torch, both dressed in the same attire as the deity.

Under the bull a dog laps at the blood dripping from the wound and a scorpion attacks the bull's testicles. Often a raven is perched on the bull's back. Scholars have interpreted the scene on the Tauroctony as having astrological symbolism as each figure and element correlates to specific constellations and the seven planets recognized by the ancient Romans.

At the bottom of the inside of the Gundestrup Cauldron is a dying bull sinking into the ground, and on a side panel we find the sacrifice of three bulls by three warriors? Bulls feature prominently in Celtic mythology, but the scene of the bull sacrifice is notably absent from their literature.

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The workmanship and scenes depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron are often interpreted as Thracian in style rather than Celtic, although many of the cauldron's decorative motifs are manifestly Celtic. The origins of the Roman cult of Mithras remain controversial, but Roman worship of Mithras is thought to have began sometime during the early Roman empire, perhaps during the late first century AD.

Many of the early theories on the origins of the Roman cult of Mithras have proved incorrect and remain unresolved. We find the largest quantity of evidence for mithraic worship comes from the western half of the empire. Does it not seem more likely that Mithraism evolved from the meeting of the Roman Empire with the Celtic world and can perhaps be best explained by the Roman custom of fusing indigenous with foriegn religious beliefs and may not be an Eastern Mystery cult at all.

Hi Hornet, thank you for your very detailed comment. I must concede the origins of Mithraism are certainly beyond me. However, various attempts have been made to unravel the scenes on the Gundestrup Cauldron and identify the deities, none of them wholly convincing. For example, the antlered figure on inner plate A is claimed to be Cernunnos. To put this in perspective, the name Cernunnos is attested but once, and that is on the 1st-century Pillar of the Boatmen, where he is depicted somewhat differently to the figure on the Gundestrup Cauldron wearing long antlers.

We cannot assume that all horned figures represent the same deity.


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  • Cernunnos appears on the Pillar of the Boatmen along with other Gallic deities such as Esus and Smertrios, who are consequently also identified amongst the other deities on the Cauldron. The presence of bull sacrifice is not exclusive to Mithraism. Bull sacrifice features in many mythologies and was very important to the Celts. It has been argued that the bull slaying scenes on the Gundestrup Cauldron represent The Tain The Cattle Raid of Cooley but this Irish epic features two bulls not three.

    The base certainly depicts a bull but can the three creatures on inner panel D positively be identified as bovine? They have a clear mane on their back and could equally be considered as equine. The Irish cattle raid interpretation has led to the deity on inner plate B being identified as Queen Medb originally a sovereignty goddess? Yet plate B also features elephants, griffons and a big cat?

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    The three horned creatures are possibly some mythical beast and may not be bulls at all. A strong argument for a Mithraic interpretation of the cauldron is from the tail of the bull in the Tauroctony scene which typically terminates in an ear of wheat as does the bull at the base of the Gundestrup Cauldron.

    The iconography is so mixed it has been argued that the Gundestrup Cauldron is the work of silversmiths working in Thrace for a Celtic client. Cheers, Ed.

    When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm; and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: "Silence! After leaving Greece, Brutus came to the island of Loegecia where he experienced a vision at the Temple of Diana , the goddess of the woods, where a statue gave answers to those who consulted her.

    He was foretold to travel to an island in the west and build a second Troy. According to Geoffrey, when Lud, brother of Cassibellaun, king of the Britons who made war against Julius Caesar, Geoffrey's version of the historical British chieftain Cassivellaunus obtained the government of the kingdom, he surrounded the city with walls and towers, and having abolished the name Troy, renamed it KaerLud , the city of Lud.

    He commanded the citizens to build houses and all kinds of structures within it so that no foreign country could show more beautiful palaces. If Geoffrey's early temple to an eastern goddess of the woods exists at all, it must be within the Walls of the first city. Running through the centre of the early Roman settlement of Londinium was the Walbrook river, probably named as such as it ran through the Wall, at the site of All-Hallows-on-the-Wall Church, Broad Street, which possibly started as a water shrine on the Wall. Feeding into the Thames at Dowgate, the Walbrook provided a source of clean water for the first inhabitants of the settlement, although now no longer visible the watercourse continues to exist beneath the city.

    Excavations in the 19th century by General Pitt Rivers uncovered 'many dozen skulls' reported from the bed of the Walbrook between Finsbury Circus and the south side of the London Wall. Walbrook skulls These skulls have been interpreted as evidence of of Geoffrey's account of a mass beheading on the banks of the Walbrook.

    Asclepiodotus is supported by Dimetians, Venedotians, Deirans, Albanians and all others of the British race who breached the walls and made a violent assault on the city.

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    Witnessing the onslaught Gallus and his troops surrendered to Asclepiodotus, but a body of Venedotians rushed them and beheaded them upon a brook in the city, from which the name of the British commander was afterwards called, Nautgallim in the British tongue and in the Saxon Gallembourne. Perhaps there is the faintest glimmer of a true account within Geoffrey's story as the Celts were renown head hunters with classical historians recording the Celt's habit of displaying the heads of their enemies on walls or hanging them from their horse's necks on the battlefield.

    Is this evidence of a Celtic attack on the city as Geoffrey writes it? Perhaps, understandably some historians have interpreted the Walbrook skulls as evidence of the Boudiccan rebellion of 60 AD. The Walbrook skulls may have been so plentiful that they were manifest in the 12th century when Geoffrey wrote.

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    Since the 19th century over one hundred skulls have been found in the upper Walbrook valley. There was so much material deposited in the Walbrook, including metalwork, broken or bent miniature weapons, mutilated figures of deities, that it was at one time thought to have been a municipal rubbish dump. Excavations along the Walbrook in London during the s produced several wooden and lead tablets, but these older discoveries have been largely ignored by scholars.

    However, ritual deposition is now recognised as the source of this material and a lead curse tablet from the Walbrook stream has been identified at Princes Street, which had been fixed by a single nail bearing the same inscription scratched on both sides cursing two men.

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    These pits, and contemporary drainage channels, also contained human skulls. Today it is thought more likely that the Walbrook skulls reflect votive practices over a long period. Further, the skulls were mainly from young males, 25 years at the time of death.

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    Study of the skulls indicates that they had been deliberately deposited without their lower jaws and that the discolouration of the bone suggested that they had been exposed for some time after death, perhaps as curated relics. The deposition of human skulls in watery contexts is an ancient custom that can be traced back to the late Bronze Age.