Love is in the air! As it's Valentine's Day, we thought what better way to celebrate than with a round-up of romantic archaeological finds from the ancient world? So, with help from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), we are presenting a selection of Valentine's-relevant finds.
Indulge Your Passion For Archaeology This Valentine's Day
Roman London-discovered Figurines of Venus
The most commonly found ceramic figurine from the world of Roman London, Venus (goddess of love) is pictured here on the right. These three figurines were produced in the ancient French region of Gaul and subsequently imported to London, where many similar examples have since been discovered at the waterfront of the Roman Thames river. Interestingly, figurines such as these were prominent in shrines kept within households and were also used in burials.
Initially, the ancient goddess Venus was aligned with the cultivation of fields and gardens, but later became known as the goddess of love. Her link with beauty and love has seen Venus become the subject of iconic artworks, such as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and the incredible Venus de Milo statue.
This beautiful fragment of a Chinese porcelain bowl was found in London's Spitalfields in the 19th century, in a privy pit of all places. On the bowl, the monogrammed initials 'E&L' could be seen in gold, letters that are surrounded by a love heart, two inward-facing white doves and two branches decorated with small flowers. The discovery was made at a site leased by the Graham family from 1811 to 1825, but the archaeologists are unsure whether the bowl belonged to them.
It is, however, possible that pieces such as these may have been commissioned to celebrate a wedding or significant anniversary. Designs would have been drafted and then sent over to China, where the pieces were produced. MOLA explains that a number of matching tea sets were also uncovered nearby.
A Token of Affection
Blue and white pottery has remained incredibly popular throughout history, and this charming piece of Delftware tile was uncovered at Billingsgate in London. Either Dutch or English, this 18th century find shows a young man presenting a flower to a girl, and MOLA believes it may have come from a decorative fireplace. Delft tiles commonly depict scenes of everyday life, such as farmscapes or general landscapes, but scenes of romance are much less found, so this beautiful piece seems to be especially noteworthy.
Of course, Cupid simply has to feature in a blog post about romantic archaeological finds – and here he is. Also known by the name of Eros, this son of Venus – god of desire – isn't holding his usual bow and arrow, but instead presents a cornucopia. This 'horn of plenty' is overflowing with fruit, perhaps to symbolise prosperity. As a 2nd century AD copper-alloy depiction of Cupid, it's hard to make out particular detail which could mean that it is simply poorly made or unfinished. MOLA suggests that this particular figurine might have been used as an offering to the god once upon a time.
MOLA provides independent archaeology and built heritage advice and professional services. With offices in London, Northampton, Basingstoke and Birmingham, MOLA’s 300 staff helps to discharge planning conditions expertly and swiftly. MOLA works in partnership to develop far-reaching research and community programmes. Find out more at mola.org.uk, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.