A unique collection of pots and pans found down a well in central London has given a rare insight into the lives of the bourgeoisie in what was then a remote northern outpost of the Roman empire.
Dating from the late fourth century, the 19 gold-colored, copper-alloy cooking and tableware implements are almost perfectly preserved because of the 1,700 years they spent underwater, protected from the ravages of oxidization.
"This is the biggest haul ever found in London," said Roman era archaeologist Marit Gaimster at the Museum of London, where the artifacts go on display Friday.
"They could have been thrown down the well to preserve them from looters as the Roman occupants retreated from London, which was under attack from the tribes. Or they could have been ceremonial offerings to the water gods.
"But judging by the fact that some have been repeatedly patched with lead plugs, it suggests that they were not specially made for ceremonial offerings but were in regular if not daily use," she added.
The 19 vessels include a bucket, dishes, cooking pots, plates and bowls that may have been used for serving wine or for personal ablutions.
"The rich in this era would have used gold and silver plate on their tables," said the museum's Roman specialist James Gerrard. "These pieces would have come from the next tier down, the middle class."
"We know they were deposited in the well after 375 A.D. because of coins we found directly under them," he added.
The well is believed to have been closed up around 380 A.D. when much of Londinium was abandoned.
They were all found together in the silted-up well near what is now known as Moorgate in central London but which in the late fourth century would have been just inside the northern end of the Roman defensive wall enclosing the city.
The site, which has been largely spared the ravages of development until now, has revealed a rich harvest of Roman era construction all buried well preserved in waterlogged ground.
The outlines of Roman houses, wooden floors, drains, plumbing and even a perfectly preserved wooden door have come to light due to painstaking archaeological excavations prior to the site being built over.