If you are looking for the oldest part of built London you can forget the Tower of London and the Roman Amphitheatre. Look instead at the foreshore in front of the MI6 building by Vauxhall Bridge. There lies London’s biggest buried secret. It is where recorded history began for the capital and you can see it only at extremely low tides, if you are lucky.
Under the water – and preserved by it – are half a dozen posts which date back to the Mesolithic period. They are a staggering 6,000 to 7,000 years old – far older than Stonehenge. Some can be seen in the foreground of a photo (above) I took during a wintery low tide, though it was not low enough to capture most of them.
Why they were built is something of a mystery. Archaeologists think they could be part of a platform associated with the River Effra, which, though underground these days, still empties itself into the Thames nearby. The posts could have been leading to a small island or fishing structure.
It is likely that the people of the Mesolithic period – when humans learned to hunt in groups and to fish, but not yet to farm – may have been more sophisticated than has been realised. Vauxhall, clearly, must be taken extremely seriously as a staging post of history.
A little further upstream archaeologists excavating the site of the new United States embassy discovered something even older, a flint tool dating to the Palaeolithic period around 7,000 to 10,000 BC.
On the upstream side of Vauxhall Bridge, a short distance beyond the Thames Clipper jetty, there is another group of piles sticking out of the water, again only at low tide, dating back to the Late Bronze Age more than 3,500 years ago. Though Johnny-come-latelies compared with what is on the other side of the bridge, they are still pretty amazing. They are best viewed from the riverside walkway as the mud on the shore can be dangerous.
More photos of the Mesolithic finds can be found on the Flickr site used by the archaeologists involved. See here: http://bit.ly/ys6KV3
Instalments 1-12 of Vic Keegan’s Lost London are here.