Museum of London Archaeology

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Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), formerly the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS), is an archaeological organisation registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), providing a wide range of professional archaeological services to clients in London, throughout Southeast England, and elsewhere. Until 1 November 2011, MOLA was a self-financed division of the Museum of London Group. As of 1 November 2011, MOLA became an independent limited charitable company, with company registration number 07751831 and charity registration number 1143574.

Despite operating largely within Greater London, MOLA is one of the top five archaeological service providers in the UK by project value and number of employees. In 2011, MOLA launched a regional subsidiary, MetroMOLA, with offices in Birmingham, Portsmouth, and Manchester. In January 2013, MOLA withdrew from the regional market and ceased trading through[clarification needed] MetroMOLA.

Based at 46 Eagle Wharf Road, just to the north of the City of London, MOLA employs approximately 150 staff offering expertise and advice at all stages of development from pre-planning onwards. Staff provide management and consultancy advice and carry out impact assessment work, excavation, and mitigation (urban, rural, infrastructure, and other schemes), standing building recording, surveying and geomatics, geoarchaeology, finds and environmental services, post-excavation and publication, graphics and photography, editing, and archiving. Despite its independent status, MOLA continues to have a partnership arrangement with the Museum of London which gives it the capability to provide commercial services whilst also offering clients valuable links to already-established programmes in community outreach and public education. As of 2012, MOLA is hosting the Thames Discovery Programme (TDP), a community archaeology programme.


MOLA was formed in 1991 through the amalgamation of the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) and the Department of Greater London Archaeology (DGLA), both departments within the Museum of London. The DUA, whose jurisdiction covered the City of London, had been created in the early 1970s in reaction to the increasing destruction of buried archaeological remains during deep-basement office redevelopment. Prior to this there was no professional archaeological unit responsible for recording remains prior to destruction, though several individuals and volunteers did carry out important work.

The creation of the DUA was one of the benefits resulting from the Rescue archaeology movement, which would today be described as a pressure or lobby group. The establishment of the DUA with a small number of government-funded staff was greatly helped by public reaction to an important publication called The Future of London's Past by archaeologist Martin Biddle. The DUA was led by Brian Hobley and revolutionised the detailed understanding of London's archaeology and early history.

The DGLA was formed from several local archaeological societies in the 1980s to address similar concerns in other historic areas of the capital, particularly in Southwark and Inner North London. The DGLA was led by Harvey Sheldon.

The pace of development within the City of London grew throughout the 1980s and particularly after deregulation of the London Stock Exchange in 1986, resulting in a great increase in archaeological work. From 1979 onwards this work was increasingly funded on a voluntary basis by the developers of the sites themselves, largely as a result of the remarkable efforts of Brian Hobley and John Maloney of the DUA, who convinced developers to contribute time and money to excavation work as good corporate citizens. As a result, the DUA and DGLA grew rapidly, with each organisation employing over 100 staff by the late 1980s. At the height of the construction boom in 1989 over 300 paid archaeologists were working on London sites. A sudden and severe downturn in the property cycle in 1990 put both the DUA and DGLA under great strain, with about half of the staff made redundant and many post-excavation projects frozen.

Changes in the legislation surrounding archaeological work were taking place at the same time. Up until 1990, archaeological units throughout England provided both curatorial advice and contractual services. This dual role was increasingly seen as carrying a potential conflict of interest, and after the controversial redevelopment of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre site in Southwark changes were made to the planning guidance (PPG16). MoLAS was set up as an archaeological contractor and provider of services, with curatorial advice moved to the local authorities in the cases of the City of London and LB Southwark, and to English Heritage GLAAS in the case of the other Greater London boroughs. During the 1990s, MoLAS rebuilt its staff structure and expanded its capabilities within the newly competitive market.


Some of the larger and more important excavations have included the Roman amphitheatre at Guildhall Yard, a complex Roman and medieval sequence at No 1 Poultry near Bank Station, excavations within the Middle Saxon settlement at Covent Garden during the expansion of the Royal Opera House, excavations along the route of the Jubilee Line Extension in Southwark and Westminster, and the recovery of over 15,000 human skeletons during excavation of the Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital in Spitalfields. Other notable work has been an English Heritage-funded programme of publication. General popular booklets and academic monographs are published in-house and have attracted consistently good reviews and several awards for private clients and developers. Major non-London projects have included the discovery of a Saxon princely burial at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, and large excavations in Kent, Northamptonshire, Milton Keynes and Bath.

Roman London[edit]

Excavations by the DUA and DGLA in the 1970s and 1980s revealed that the history of the Roman founding and development of Londinium was much more complex than previously realised. London was established on a militarily-strategic and economically important location which is now the site of the City of London and North Southwark. The settlement was formed shortly after AD 43 AD, probably around the year 47, and a permanent river-crossing was established very near to the current position of London Bridge. Londinium grew rapidly in the 50s but was destroyed in the Boudican revolt around AD 60. The town was rebuilt shortly afterwards and became the provincial capital, enjoying substantial public investment and spectacular economic growth until its height in the early 2nd century. An extensive fire, economic changes, and plague saw growth stagnate in the mid-2nd century, though defensive walls were added around AD 200 during or after the contention between Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus. Later Roman London experienced urban renewal in many areas and remained an important centre, though it was no longer a large port or centre of trade. The town suffered a final decline in the late 4th century and was rapidly abandoned, with little evidence of occupation soon after the Roman withdrawal from Britain. Work in recent years by MOLA has continued to add significant information, with recent research findings including extramural Roman settlement in Westminster at St Martin-in-the-Fields and a post-Boudican fortified enclosure at Plantation Place on Cornhill.

Discovery of Lundenwic[edit]

Display of finds at the Lundenwic site

Excavation in the City of London in the 1970s and 1980s had failed to find virtually any evidence of occupation in the period from the 5th to the 10th century despite apparently unambiguous historical evidence of London's existence at least from AD 604 onwards. However, the Department of Greater London Archaeology (DGLA) had discovered so-called Saxon farms in the area of Fleet Street, Covent Garden, and Westminster. In the mid 1980s, Alan Vince and Martin Biddle independently came up with the theory that London had been re-established not in the City but a couple of miles to the west, centred on the area called Aldwych. This Middle Saxon settlement was known as Lundenwic. Lundenwic was subjected to increasing Viking attack in the 9th century and the population may have been forced to scatter. Around the year 886, Alfred the Great moved the Londoners back into the City of London and the shelter of the Roman defensive walls, which still stood. The Late Saxon reoccupation of the Roman town site was known as Lundenburgh.

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Coordinates: 51°32′06″N 0°05′25″W / 51.53500°N 0.09020°W / 51.53500; -0.09020