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24 September 2014

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You are in: London > London Local > Newham > Spare Time > Did prehistoric Londoners inhabit the Olympic site?

archaeological dig on olympic site

archaeological dig on olympic site

Did prehistoric Londoners inhabit the Olympic site?

Before any building work can get started the Olympic site will be scrutinised by a team of archaeologists for signs of life long ago.

Lea Valley archaeological timeline

  • 500,000 BC - River Lea adopted current course
  • 6000 BC - area covered by the Olympic Park probably covered by freshwater.
  • 3000 BC - Sea level has risen  and area navigated by timber walkways for hunting and fishing.
  • 50 AD - Roman Road, Ermine Street, from London to Colchester constructed.
  • 9th century - King Alfred reputedly dug Channelsea river.
  • Early 12th century - In 1110 the first stone arch bridge in Britain constructed over the River Lea just north of the current Stratford High Street.  It's bow shape gave the area its name.
  • Late 12th century - Knights Templar built a water mill at Temple Mills.
  • 18th century - Possibly the first porcelain factory opened.
  • 19th century - Olympic Park area first used for land-fill waste.  Around half the site has its ground raised by industrial dumping.
  • 19th century - plastic invented by Alexander Parkes though his factory at Hackney Wick was commercially unsuccessful.

In living memory the Lower Lee Valley has been a site of industrial activity, liberally interspersed with dereliction and contamination.  But what was there before? 

A team of experts from the Museum of London have started a dig to unearth as many clues as possible to the site's history.  Before Olympic construction work gets underway, archaeologists will trawl through the 500 acre site to seek evidence of Roman, Viking and medieval Londoners.

" "We are starting well ahead of the planned start of construction and nothing is expected to be found that could affect our timetable"."

David Higgins, ODA Chief Exec.

Tales of construction projects being hampered by archaeological finds are legion.  In Rome, the building of one underground line was delayed for years by a series of precious finds.

The Olympic Delivery Authority is confident that history won't get in the way of the future.  Chief Executive David Higgins says, "this is an opportunity to chart and record the unique history of the area back to the first Londoners before it is given a new lease of life for the Games and future generations".  He went on "We are starting well ahead of the planned start of construction and nothing is expected to be found that could affect our timetable".

Work has already started on a dozen trenches on the future Velopark to the North-East of the Olympic Park.  They will concentrate on

  • Hennikers Ditch - a medieval waterway along the route of the ancient river Leyton.
  • Channelsea River - reputedly dug by King Alfred to divert invading Vikings.
  • World War II gun emplacements - to defend London from air attacks.

Any interesting finds will either be photographed and recorded, or removed to form part of the Museum of London's collection.  The senior archaeologist there, Kieron Tyler, says "This investigation will tell the story of the changing landscape and exactly how human intervention has constantly influenced the environment.  It is a unique opportunity to do it such a huge scale."

last updated: 01/01/2008 at 15:43
created: 26/04/2007

You are in: London > London Local > Newham > Spare Time > Did prehistoric Londoners inhabit the Olympic site?

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