London’s oldest structure found on Thames foreshore

Mesolithic timber pileResearchers from the Thames Discovery Programme have found six 6000-year-old timber piles on the foreshore of the Thames under the shadow of the MI6 building. It’s not certain exactly what their function was, but they were part of a structure built during the Mesolithic period at what would have been the river’s edge. Now they’re only visible at low tide because river levels have risen over the past 6000 years.

The timbers were found during a survey in spring of 2010 but the find was kept secret until it could be fully documented without interference. Artifacts dating to around the same period as the piles were found on the site, as well as some Stone Age pottery.

Near the timbers, late Mesolithic stone tools, including a fine tranchet adze (a woodworking tool), were also discovered, as well as slightly later Neolithic pottery of two distinct types. The area may have been a significant, named place continuing through centuries or even millennia. It is only 600 metres downstream from the Bronze Age timber-built bridge or jetty (c. 1500 BC) which hit the headlines in the 1990s.

Archaeologists from the Thames Discovery Programme made the discovery as they investigated the area as part of a continuing project to record archaeological and historical remains on the foreshore. With support, help and advice from English Heritage, alongside the Museum of London and the Geomatics team from Museum of London Archaeology, a detailed survey was carried out, radiocarbon dates obtained for the six piles, and specialist analysis of the artefacts and environmental evidence performed.

More artifacts or pieces of the structure may well turn up in the future. The site’s location right at the lowest tide level make it highly susceptible to the effects of tidal scour and river traffic. Things get sucked out then slapped back down.

Of course, that’s also a source of site degradation, as is the constant development of the Thames shore. A new Combined Sewer Overflow is scheduled to open just a few feet away from the timbers.

Vauxhall Mesolithic timber site, low tide