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15 August 2009
London's earliest timber structure found

London's oldest timber structure has been unearthed by archaeologists from Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL). It was found during the excavation of a prehistoric peat bog adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, in advance of the construction of a new prison building. Radiocarbon dating has shown the structure to be nearly 6,000 years old.
     The structure consisted of a timber platform or trackway found at a depth of 4.7m (about the height of a double decker bus) beneath two metres of peat adjacent to an ancient river channel. Previously, the oldest timber structure in Greater London was the timber trackway in Silvertown, which has been dated to 3340-2910 BCE, c. 700 years younger.
     Wetlands adjacent to rivers such as the Thames were an important source of food for prehistoric people, and timber trackways and platforms made it easier to cross the boggy terrain. The peat bogs which developed at Plumstead provided ideal conditions to preserve organic materials, which in other environments would have rotted away. The peat not only preserved wood, but also other plant matter - down to microscopic pollen grains - which can inform us about the contemporary landscape. English Heritage provides planning advice in respect of archaeology within Greater London and was involved in the discovery at the Plumstead site.
     Mark Stevenson, Archaeological Advisor at English Heritage said: "The timber structure is slightly earlier in date than the earliest trackways excavated in the Somerset Levels, including the famous 'Sweet Track' to Glastonbury, which provide some of the earliest physical evidence for woodworking in England."
     Other notable finds from the archaeological excavation include an Early Bronze Age alder log with unusually well-preserved tool marks made by a metal axe. This item has been laser scanned at UCL's Department of Civil, Environmental and Geometric Engineering and is currently undergoing conservation treatment prior to its display in Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich. The study of the samples will continue for the next couple of years as the archaeological team learns more about this intriguing structure and the environment in which it was built.

Source: EurekAlert! (12 August 2009)

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