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Mesolithic era timbers found on Thames foreshore

7 January 2011

A rather juvenile Guardian report of an archaeological discovery, invoking James Bond, is all about what has been found on the Thames foreshore – part of ongoing research that has been taking place for months, and just happened to be within spitting distance of the M16 building – which is duly given prominence by the newspaper (see www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jan/06/ancient-timber-m16-headquarters/) However, the same story is also available elsewhere, including www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/01/2011/londons-oldest-structure-revealed/ where a more sober report focussed on the archaeology is available. It emerges that some hefty timber piles were found and C14 dated between 4790-4490BC – in what is tagged the Mesolithic era. It seems the Mesolithic might not have been quite what the archaeologists usually describe – a backward phase of prehistory when Britain was inhabited by hunter-gatherers chewing on tubers and roots, plucking berries and eating lots and lots of hazelnuts. They are thought to have lived in temporary camps. However, this view might have to change as Mesolithic people were constructing elaborate fishing weirs in Ireland and on the Isle of Wight, or more precisely at the bottom of a sheer cliff dropping down into what is now the Solent, a Mesolithic boatyard was found – even older than this current London discovery. What were Mesolithic people doing building a huge wooden structure on the side of the Thames. The site may possibly have been an island at the time and the topography was certainly a lot different. The Mid Holocene Warm Period was noteable in that its waterways and coastline were fairly stable – with reduced erosion in comparison with recent centuries. The archaeologists say that the river at this point was narrower, and deeper, reflecting a reduced flow of water from up country. The big question is what were the very thick timbers supporting. It could have been a substantial platform, or a jetty of some kind. It was probably some kind of building on stilts, with an unknown function, as it lay on the junction with a small tributary, the Effra.

Upstream, near Vauxhall bridge, a Bronze Age timber built bridge or jetty was found dating to around 1500BC – and various other structures of different date have also been found during the extensive survey of London's foreshore. The findings were published in the London Archaeologist, winter issue, volume 12 number 11, January 6th 2011.

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