In Roman times this part of London, just north of the City wall, was dominated by the Walbrook river, which flowed south into the Thames. The large excavation at Liverpool Street lay on the eastern bank of the Walbrook.
During the excavation of Liverpool Street station more than 50 human skulls along with a smaller number of other human bones were recovered from Roman deposits. These add to about 300 skulls that have been found in and around the upper Walbrook valley over the last 200 years. There has been much debate about why these disarticulated human remains appear in this area.
The majority of the skulls at the Liverpool Street site are from adult males and were found in two different types of locations. Twenty-one skulls were found in the earliest roadside ditch, which was dug in the mid-2nd century AD. They may have been deliberately placed there. But where did they come from?
A further 35 skulls were recovered from gravel which was dumped on the eastern bank of the Walbrook, towards the end of the 2nd century, a possible attempt at raising the ground level to stabilise the bank. Radiocarbon dating of these skulls indicates they come from a number of different dates within the Roman period. Some showed signs of damage from the gravel – one has pebbles lodged in its eye socket – while others had water lines as if they had been lying in standing water. It is not known where they originated from.
Archaeology discovers information but not always the explanation and it is likely that the skulls and other human remains in the Walbrook are there due to a combination of factors.
Two of the 35 skulls that were recovered from gravel dumped near the Walbrook. At least 25 are thought to be male and five female. The surface of the bone has been damaged by the gravel and pebbles lodged in one of the eye sockets.
Two of the 21 skulls from the earliest roadside ditch. Of these, thirteen are thought to be male and six female. The difference in the colour of the bone is caused by the burial conditions, such as the type of soil and how damp different areas of the site were.