As well, presumably, as a few meticulously dug escape tunnels, archaeologists excavating adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, have discovered what theyre describing as Londons earliest timber structure. Comprising a wooden platform or trackway, buried 4.7 metres deep in a peat bog, its been radiocarbon-dated at 6,000 years old. Thats 500 years earlier than Stonehenge, and about 700 years earlier than the previous oldest-known example the timber trackway discovered at Silverton dating to around 3340-2910 BC.
Whats so special about a very old plank of wood, you ask? For prehistoric Londoners, the wetlands surrounding the River Thames were a vital source of food. They would lay timber platforms or trackways across especially boggy patches to make them easier to cross. This one evidently sank, and thats exactly whats caused it to survive to this day peat bogs preserve organic matter, while most other environments tend to rot it away over long periods of time.
This new find may even just outdate the famous timber Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels an ancient causeway leading to Glastonbury, which has been described as the worlds oldest engineered road. The Plumstead wooden structure is therefore being hailed as one of the very earliest examples ever discovered in the British isles of humans adapting to the challenges of their natural environment.
Diccon Hart, Senior Archaeologist at the organisation behind the dig, Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London), described the discovery as an incredibly exciting find, in a statement, before hailing his teams efforts. It is testament, he added, to the hard work and determination of those who toiled under very difficult conditions to unearth a rare and fascinating structure almost 6,000 years after it was constructed.
Other objects found during the excavation include an Early Bronze Age alder log complete with a remarkably well-preserved set of tools made with a metal axe. After undergoing some painstaking preservation work, these objects will eventually go on display in Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich. Lab work will follow over the next couple of years, as the ASE team attempt to learn more about the fascinating structure and its time and environment.
Picture c/o Archaeology South-East. All rights reserved.