London’s top secret

Just yards from the M16 building in Vauxhall lies London’s oldest prehistoric structure, on a site that has remained wrapped in secrecy until its dating could be confirmed. The Thames Discovery Programme can now exclusively reveal that a group of six late Mesolithic timbers have recently been revealed on the foreshore, exposed by an increasingly-aggressive tidal scour.

The six-thousand-year-old site has been recorded as part of the London-wide ‘Thames Discovery Programme’, with the active support of English Heritage, the Museum of London and the Geomatics team from MoLA.

This feature lies a few hundred metres east of the remarkable Bronze Age timber-built ‘bridge’ or jetty (dated to 1750–1285 cal BC) recorded by the Thames Archaeological Survey team in 1993 and the subject of a Channel 4 ‘Time Team’ programme in 2001. The new find downstream is even older, with three samples returning radiocarbon dates of 4790–4610 cal BC, 4690–4490 cal BC and 4720–4540 cal BC.

The group at present comprises three timbers up to 300 mm diameter, some with bark and sapwood surviving, as well as three smaller stakes up to 100 mms in diameter. The feature is only exposed at very low tides, and thus more may be revealed when the site is re-surveyed in the future. The wooden features do not form any obvious alignments as yet, and may possibly represent more than one phase of activity.

A number of interesting Mesolithic finds have also been recovered from this foreshore, including an assemblage of lithics and a tranchet adze. This remarkable site is now the focus of a wider study of the area, at the confluence of the Thames and the Effra, at a time when sea and river levels were considerably lower than they are now.

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