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British Museum

Discover objects that tell the stories of past communities that have used London's river.


Secrets from the Thames

In the Bronze Age and Iron Age, long before London was built, the River Thames was a popular place to make offerings to the gods, especially in what is now the stretch from Battersea to Waterloo. This may have been the site of crossing points across the powerful and turbulent river, or perhaps a sacred place, or an important political boundary - maybe all of these things.

The remains of ancient human skulls have also been found in the river. Perhaps the weapons and other objects accompanied the watery burial of the dead, or were spoils of war being dedicated to the gods by victorious warriors. Casting these beautiful and important objects into the water may even have simply been a display of wealth and power, we don't know for sure.

In the Roman period, the Thames became an important river crossing on the road leading south out of the city of Londinium. Rivers were sacred to the Romans and it was customary to make offerings at bridges and fords. When London Bridge was rebuilt in the 19th century many Roman coins and objects were recovered from the area of this river crossing.

There are also lots of early medieval finds from the Thames, including often later Anglo-Saxon and Viking weapons. However it's not entirely clear why they are there - were these ritual and deliberate deposits or losses during transit or in battle?

The water of the Thames has preserved these objects for us to rediscover and display today. Many were found as the London we know was being built, when Victorian labourers were dredging the Thames for the building of embankments and to allow larger ships to pass.

See these objects on display in Rooms 41, 50 and 51 at the British Museum.

Horned helmet. Found in the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge, London, 150–50 BC
See objects found in the Thames, including this horned helmet from 150–50 BC, on display in Rooms 41, 50 and 51 at the British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum


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