MoLAS homepage

MoLAS 2002: annual review for 2001

Printer-friendly version
(all parts, 1 page)

MoLAS website




For the last few years MoLAS has been working towards two key aims: to provide good value archaeological services to its property developer clients and, through the quality and immediacy of our work, to demonstrate the educational, social and even economic potential of London's archaeology. This has required a very focused approach blending commercial and public interests: servicing the demands of property professionals in a world of fast-paced construction programmes while designing archaeological projects that also return something of value to the public, to the archives and to the bookshelves.

In 2001 these two aims came together more than ever before. It was a year of remarkable discoveries, especially in London, where important aspects of the city's development must now be reconsidered in the light of new evidence. It was also a year when clients increasingly sought benefits from their archaeological commissions beyond the usual boundaries of site work and planning conditions.

Among the highlights of 2001 is the discovery at Blossom's Inn, 20-30 Gresham Street, EC2 (Land Securities PLC), of early Roman wells - which are revolutionising our understanding of Londinium's public water supply - and of an extremely rare, 13th-century Jewish ritual bath, or mikveh, at the same site. The excavation also uncovered a life-sized forearm from a 1st-century AD cast bronze statue which was immediately put on display at the Museum of London, along with parts of the waterwheel mechanism recovered from the Roman wells. Land Securities also generously sponsored 'The dig', an interactive exhibition at the Museum where children could excavate a simulated archaeological sequence.

Nearby, at 10 Gresham Street, EC2 (the Standard Life Assurance Company), the discovery of a cluster of Romano-British circular buildings on the edge of the 1st-century Roman town may ultimately prove to be the find of the year. A well-preserved 2nd-century AD building with a fine mosaic was the subject of television and press reports.

Perhaps equally important is the excavation of an early Saxon settlement at Hammersmith Embankment, Winslow Road, W6 (Hammersmith Embankment Ltd). Another noteworthy project continues at the site of a major housing and commercial development at Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire (Bovis Homes Ltd (Central Region), Arlington Development Management Ltd, Baynham Meikle Partnership Ltd, Carillion Building Ltd and Warings Construction Group Ltd), where prehistoric, medieval and later features were recorded across a very large area.

Excavation work continued at Spitalfields in 2001. Spitalfields Development Group published an impressive book about this remarkable development project and the efforts being made to retain a human scale within it. The community and education benefits that archaeology has brought to the project must stand out as one of the biggest achievements in London archaeology over the last few years.

The highlights of 2001 include other tangible results, the most obvious being the publication of five major books and over 20 shorter papers and articles. Of equal value are the archaeological archives resulting from excavation and analysis work, a rich source for the development of future research. These archives are now being deposited in the Museum's newly opened London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (the LAARC). The preparation of archives and their deposition is a priority at MoLAS, and another example of the public benefit of commercially funded work on London archaeology.

In June 2001 we moved into our new, purpose-built premises at 46 Eagle Wharf Road, a permanent home overlooking the Regent's Canal. Mortimer Wheeler House also holds the LAARC, which opened its doors to the public in February 2002, and the finds and environmental experts of Museum of London Specialist Services (MoLSS) who work closely with MoLAS on most of our projects.

In MoLAS 2002 we have chosen to review our work from a different perspective than in the past, categorising archaeological projects according to the type of property development involved. As property professionals and archaeologists well know, most archaeological excavation today takes place as a consequence of new development. The number of archaeological projects related to Central London office development remained high in 2001, a result of the continued buoyancy of the commercial property market at the start of the new millennium, despite warnings of a downturn. The year also saw an increase in the number of significant projects stemming from housing, infrastructure and retail schemes. The number of standing building surveys also grew and, as new construction work slowed late in the year, there was an increase in the number of desk-based archaeological and environmental assessments.

Archaeology today is a complex, interdisciplinary subject, weaving a narrative from a sometimes fragmentary and disparate record. The Museum of London's archaeological services employ specialists in over 25 different fields, and many of MoLAS's projects require an input from each of them. Our clients often ask us how we put together the records and archives we create, what their interpretation involves and how this reveals the stories contained within them. We have taken the opportunity, therefore, to include more information in MoLAS 2002 on the specialisms and capabilities within the organisation, describing how they help to deliver successful results on site and through post-excavation research.

Working mainly in south-eastern England, especially in Greater London, Berkshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent and West Sussex, MoLAS employed 186 people during the year, working closely with a team of 35 specialists in MoLSS and many other contributors from universities and other organisations. At times during the year there were over 100 archaeologists working on site. It is very difficult to think of a single MoLAS project that has not been a collaborative, team effort. The hard work and commitment of the team in MoLAS has meant that we have had another successful year, and enormous thanks are due to them, as well as to our clients, colleagues and supporters.

Taryn Nixon

Director of Archaeological Services

MoLAS logo

Printer-friendly version of this page

Text-only version of this page