Delftware tile (c) MOLA

For the love of archaeology: Our four favourite Valentine’s finds

MOLA team

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we asked our team of expert finds specialists to tell us a little bit about their favourite love-related archaeological finds.

We’ve excavated lots of different sites across the country and discovered fascinating things, from Prehistoric timbers to Victorian Piccalilli pots. Today we’re looking at finds from a porcelain bowl in a privy pit to Venus figurines from Roman London that have been studied by our dedicated team of specialists.

Here’s our four favourite Valentine’s finds...

From Holland (or England!) with love:

We discovered this lovely piece of 18th century Dutch or English delftware tile at Billingsgate in London. This romantic little scene depicts a young boy presenting a flower to a young girl, we think it may have come from a decorative fireplace surround.

English and, in particular, Dutch delftware tiles showing scenes of everyday life are found frequently in London, however romantic scenes like this one are not as common!

Birds of a feather:

These fragments of a Chinese porcelain bowl were discovered in a 19th-century privy pit in Spitalfields, London which was known to have been leased by the Graham household from 1811 to 1825. The bowl has the initials ‘E&L’ monogrammed elegantly in gold and surrounded by a garland of flowers, accompanied by two doves perched on top of more delicately painted flowers and a gleaming red love heart.

Whilst we’re not sure whether this particular bowl belonged to the Graham family, we do know that pieces like this were extra special and would have been commissioned, possibly to commemorate a wedding or anniversary. The design specifications would have been sent off to an agent and the bowl would then have been produced in China. This particular bowl may have been part of a larger set, as we found a number of matching tea sets nearby, perhaps for use on special occasions!

Venus de London:

Venus – the goddess of love and beauty - is the most common type of ceramic figurine found in Roman London. We know that these three figurines were made in moulds, mass-produced in Gaul (part of modern day France) and imported to London in large numbers. Other examples have been found as part of stock groups of pottery at the Roman Thames waterfront. They were used in household shrines and also as offerings in various ritual practices including grave goods in burials.

Cupid’s cornucopia:

No valentine’s day themed post would be complete without a mention of Cupid (also known as Eros), the son of Venus, who had the power to make people fall in love by shooting them with his magic bow.

In this copper-alloy depiction from the 2nd century AD, however, his trusty bow has been replaced with a cornucopia, a ‘horn of plenty’ overflowing with fruit, a symbol of prosperity.

This example is quite poorly made and may even be an unfinished second or waste from a nearby workshop. He seems to have been put to good use, however, and was buried, perhaps as an offering to the god, with other votive and amuletic objects (female jewellery; two miniature hairpins and an amber bead). 

  • From the experts
  • Artefacts
  • Roman
  • Post-medieval

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