Roman waterwheel reconstruction project (GHT00)

Roman waterwheel reconstruction project (© MoLAS)

Clients: Swiss Re

Author: Nick Bateman

Site supervisor: Ian Blair

The considerable remains of a partially destroyed Roman timber water-lifting device were excavated in 2001. For 2002 the Museum of London decided to commission a full-scale reconstruction of this amazing piece of ancient engineering and sought and obtained sponsorship from Swiss Re to this end. For them it was a perfect opportunity to explain something about the wider social context of one of their major environmental themes: water, and the concept of sustainable water usage, sits at the heart of Swiss Re´s corporate citizenship programme. For the archaeologists involved, this project was a valuable and unusual opportunity to turn ideas into reality: to see whether interpretations which looked fine on paper really could work in practice.

Over a period of several months, a team comprising MOL curators, MoLAS archaeologists and conservators involved in the excavations, civil engineers, MoLAS ancient woodworking specialists, and builders McCurdys & Co – all under the watchful eye of television filming crews from Time Team – worked up `proof of concept´ drawings into a fully operational device of several tons weight.

The machine is still in regular operation at the Museum and undergoing a series of controlled trials which will provide us with fascinating new understanding of Roman London´s water supply and the levels of sophistication displayed by Roman craftsmen. For both Swiss Re and the Museum of London it has been a resounding success with literally thousands of eager volunteers taking their turn at being Roman slaves to drive the capstan round.

This site report is extracted from MoLAS 2003: annual review

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