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Archaeology breakthrough: London researchers baffled by ‘strange mythical creature’
September 8, 2020
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The cesspit is thought to have undergone a makeover over the centuries, transforming from a receptacle for human excrement into a fashionable cellar.
The discovery was made at the end of 2019, and since then archaeologists at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have examined the structure and found numerous artefacts.
They unearthed a gold-plated ring, an iron spur for riding horses and a fork from the post-medieval period.
But a standout find was a rare tile depicting an image of a peculiar animal.
Antonietta Lerz, a senior archaeologist at MOLA, told Live Science that it was a “strange mythical creature with a human head at one end and a leaf-like tail at the other”.
The tile dates back to between 1350 to 1390, and was a piece from a four-tile panel made in Buckinghamshire.
Tiles from the area were used in palaces and monastic sites during the medieval period.
The cesspit is located in the basement of The Courtauld Institute of Art, a stone’s throw from Covent Garden.
The large pit is about 15 feet by 15 feet (4.5 metres) and constructed with chalk walls about 3 feet (1 m) wide.
It’s more than 13 feet (4 m) deep, although it may have been even deeper before its renovation into a cellar.
It had been used for human waste for about a century, although “cesspits were routinely cleaned out, so the period of use may have been longer than the recovered finds suggest”, Ms Lerz added.
She added: “We hope to be able to refine our interpretation once all of the material is properly assessed.”
In the decades following the 17th Century, workers added several layers of brick flooring, with the last layer dating to the 18th century.
Finally, in the 19th century, a small toilet was added in the northwest corner of the cesspit.
Archaeologists also found a glazed bowl and a glass inkwell.
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The gold-plated ring dates to the 14th century and may contain a garnet. The two-pronged fork, which has a bone handle, was likely used to dine on sweetmeats, or sugar-filled delicacies.
A similar find was made in China, within a tomb located in Xinzhou city.
Murals were discovered depicting mysterious beasts, including a blue monster, a winged horse and a nude deity.
The find was unique because of the colourful murals covering 80 square metres of the tomb.
Despite the fact some of the tomb’s treasures had been looted and bodies were missing, the murals were well preserved.
They illustrated a man and a woman in a variety of scenes, with one example being the pair enjoying a banquet and in another, a man plays a harp while other musicians hold instruments.