Jet Beads from Southwark's Largest Roman Cemetery

jet beadsIn the early 2000s, AOC uncovered the largest Roman cemetery ever found in Southwark. Commissioned by Schroders Property Investment Management Ltd, the excavation prior to redevelopment uncovered over 150 burials. The burials included 167 individuals and amongst some of the finest grave goods excavated in London. Notable finds include an adult male buried with an iron blade or spear, an intaglio ring and hundreds of beautifully cut black jet beads, a selection of which are illustrated to the right. The beads probably originated from Whitby in Yorkshire and would have been part of a prized possession. The jet beads were shaped as cylinders with grooved and faceted decoration and were found in the neck area of the skeleton along with a single yellow round glass bead (seen at the top of the picture).

Mixing beads of different types was typical of later Roman necklaces and the yellow bead would have made an attractive contrasting feature alongside the black jet. As well as jet necklaces, beads were found away from the upper body of some burials suggesting they would have formed bracelets. Other jewellery found during the excavation included copper-alloy bracelets, some with snake head terminals, finger rings, and bone hairpins. Touchingly, iron hobnails were found near the feet of some of the burials, indicating they were buried wearing shoes.

AOC is grateful to Dr Angela Wardle for her reporting on the jet beads and other small finds from this site.