An archaeologist visits… The Tower of London

Beefeater Tower of London

The tickets may be over-priced, but there’s something for everyone and, from the traditionally dressed guards to medieval graffiti in the dungeons, a visit to the Tower is like stepping back in time.


The Tower of London is one of many iconic historical landmarks in England, but what’s going on in this day and age? Despite the seemingly high entry fee (which goes towards the upkeep of the royal buildings), there’s enough going on to take up a good few hours of your time.

Step back in time

Gosh, a greeting from a traditionally dressed guard. A soon as you step in through the gates it’s like a living form of archaeology. See the higgledepiggeldy development of the buildings, sense the use of space and meander from the modern day back to the medieval.

Overflowing with memories

Right now, the first thing to see are the 888,246 ceramic poppies cascading out of a window, down the walls of the tower and filling the moat. They were “planted” by ceramist Paul Cummings and each one represents a British and Commonwealth soldier who died during World War One. Fancy taking one home? You can, for a price, but the proceeds will be split between six war related charities.

Impressive as it is, I did wonder what the Tower of London had to do with World War One. Turns out, as a dedicated gallery explains, the Tower served many purposes during the war. For a start it’s where, in 1914, men would line up in the moat to take their Oath of Allegiance before leaving for training.  Training took place in the grounds, and the 2nd Scots Guard was  even dispatched to the Front Line from the Tower.

Prisoner graffiti

Not so into modernity, more into antiquity? Onwards to the medieval towers! This is where the greatest powers of the time would meet. But, really, admit, you’re here to see the prisons, aren’t you? From the spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head, the chapel where her remains were recovered after centuries of mystery, right down to the graffiti etched by prisoners into the Tower’s cold, grey walls, you do get a fascinating glimpse into the dark side of power while you’re here.

Whaaaat? A polar bear in the Tower of London?

Time to lighten the mood, eh? Leave the people and their dastardly deeds, and check out… the animals. And it is a right royal menagerie. Upon your entrance you’ll see the remains of the Lion Pit, and an entire gallery dedicated to royal menagerie. There’s lions, tigers, and polar bears (oh my!), baboons, ostriches,  and plenty of tales of disastrous  encounters with the public, and even… a little animal archaeological evidence to tickle your fancy.

And as if all of that isn’t enough fun for you, there’s the spectacular sight of the royal Crown Jewels to dazzle you that little bit more.  Really, what more could you want from a day out?

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Sarah Ashbridge

Office monkey by day, forensic archaeologist by night, Sarah Ashbridge is a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one: the forensic identification the War Dead. She trained originally as an Egyptologist, but interests in the history of death and burial saw her make the step into archaeology, completing an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. Armed with an ever-increasing library of books, a handful of illustration pens and a brand new trowel, Sarah writes our regular #WWWednesday column, working towards her PhD in Forensic Archaeology.

Read more from Sarah Ashbridge +

Get Dig Mail

Keep up with the latest fun, facts & features from the world of archaeology.

Easy opt-out at any time - Privacy Policy

Archaeology / In Your Hands

Courses for anyone who wants to learn more about archaeology, and have fun while they're doing it!

Archaeology Courses

Our fab archaeology merch: dig team tee-shirts, Tatty Devine jewellery range, tote bags, and more!

Archaeology Shop