Behind the City of London’s Gherkin skyscraper, lies a modern grave of a young Roman girl.
The girl’s skeleton was revealed in 1995 when 30 St Mary Axe, better known as the Gherkin, was being constructed. The old Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by a Provisional IRA bomb in 1992, was subsequently demolished. In 1995, as the site was being cleared for a new building, an archaeological investigation discovered the remains of a young Roman girl estimated to be 1,600 years old. From a time when the City of London was the Roman settlement of Londinium.
For the next 12 years, they housed her body at the Museum of London. The skeleton was that of a young girl of around 13-17 years of age. Although fragments of human skull were found nearby, it appeared to be an isolated burial and not part of a cemetery.
It was established she lived and died in the late 4th century A.D. No other bodies were found in the surrounding earth, which seems to show she hadn’t been buried in an established cemetery. As per the Roman tradition, cemeteries were to be located outside of urban areas; Londinium cemetery was in the area that is now known as Spitalfields. This is virtually all the information archaeologists were able to retrieve from the remains and the few pottery fragments found next to the skeleton.
The burial would have been outside an early boundary ditch marking the edge of the Roman city. The body was horizontal, with the head to the south and the arms folded across the body. Pottery found with the burial has been dated to AD 350-400.
After the discovery, it was decided to rebury the girl in the same location, after they completed the Gherkin building. While they forbid burials in the City of London in the 1850s. In 2007 legislation was passed to allow the reuse of burial plots within London, if the previous occupant had been in the site for over 75 years. As this clearly related to the Roman girl, there’s a certain poetic license about her reburial.
A procession followed a memorial service at St. Botolph’s Church in Aldgate to the Gherkin where the re-internment took place. The Lady Mayoress of the City of London attended it. They reburied the Londinium girl at the base of the Gherkin, giving her a final place of rest.
There’s an inscription in honour of the girl on a stone feature outside the building in both Latin and English, while a stone set in the pavement decorated with laurel leaves marks the reburial spot.
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