Roman Holidays

Simon Thurley, Director of the Museum of London, describes the discovery at the bottom of his garden that changed his life.

I don’t know whether all schoolchildren go through a ‘Roman’ stage or whether it is only the ones I meet. Certainly the Romans have never been so popular: the galleries of the Museum of London are filled with children doing the Romans and adults inspired by the movie Gladiator. Few children, however, can have had the experience that I had as a boy in the town of Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire in the late 1960s and early 70s. In the hall of my house in Stepney in east London, hangs a plaque with three Roman ox jawbones fixed to it bearing the inscription ‘Excavated by Simon Thurley, summer 1973’. Downstairs in a cabinet are more souvenirs of a similar vintage including a Roman slingshot, a marble palette for mixing make-up, and several Roman coins. All these are the products of a juvenile enthusiasm for archaeology that grew, over the years, through a series of accidents, to be my profession.

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