June 11, 2012 - The London 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games open on July 27. Among the first to prepare for this historic moment were archaeologists, who excavated a 1.6-square-mile site in east London. Olympic Park, with its stadium, Aquatics Center and Velodome, was later constructed on the land.
Most viewers of the games will see these buildings, not realizing that thousands of years of U.K. history exist underneath the structures.
One of the oldest artifacts to be unearthed was this Neolithic flint axe head.
Wessex Archaeology’s Andrew Powell, who helped to analyze the findings, told Discovery News, “Axes like these would have been used for clearing woodland for cultivation, but would also have been prestige objects, exchanged over long distances and possibly used, perhaps as here, as some form of votive offering.” He thinks the axe may have been tossed in the Lea River, since placing valuable objects in rivers held ritualistic significance for certain cultures during prehistoric times.
Neolithic Pottery Shard
Archaeologist Mike Pitts is editor-in-chief of British Archaeology, which highlights the Olympic Park excavations in its current issue.
“You see a very curious collection of discarded junk” at the site, Pitts said. Neolithic remains like this pottery shard, however, can reveal information about England’s early inhabitants. Pitts says that there were only one or two small farming villages established on the land. The Lea River, braided streams, and marsh “always made it a place that was on the fringe of the wider world,” he said.
Roman Shale Bracelet
The Romans established the city of London at around 43 A.D. This fragment of a shale bracelet dates to the Roman London era.
“Shale outcrops in Dorset were extensively exploited in the Roman period, and items of jewelry, particularly bracelets, are fairly common finds, at least across southern England (in northern England jet was more commonly used)," Pippa Bradley, senior post-excavation manager at Wessex, explained. "When these items are found in graves, they are generally associated with women and children, but would not necessarily indicate individuals of high status.”
Coins such as this also date back to Roman London. The image on the left shows Constantine II.
The image on the right displays what is known as a “Trier mint mark,” revealing that this particular coin dates to 331 A.D.
Medieval Charred Wheat
Charred emmer wheat remains, carbon dated to 1100 A.D., came from the burning of crop processing waste, according to Powell.
"The processing of wheat harvested from the drier land around the valley, and the milling of the grain to make flour, was probably the most important economic activity in the valley from the late Saxon to the post-medieval period, with eight tidal watermills in Stratford by Domesday," Powell said. "Bread would have been the main staple of the medieval peasant’s diet.”
Medieval Fruit Pits
The grape pits on the left, along with the plum pit on the right, have been carbon dated to approximately 1500 A.D. Fresh fruit indicates “the wider range of foods available to the wealthy,” Powell said.
18th Century Rifle Bucket
A rare item from the excavations is this leather rifle bucket. Pitts explained that it is “a leather sling for holding a gun on horseback.” He said it was “found near a small boat that had been fitted out for industrial scale gun fowling.”
18th Century Bone Pistol Grip Handle
This bone pistol-grip handle, probably from a knife, was engraved with either the letters “TN” or “IN.” Pitts said that, for a while, the site “became a dump for London’s waste.” Someone may have then just discarded this once treasured object when it broke.
18th Century Clay Pipe
Many men in England used to own disposable clay pipes such as this one. The pipes were popular throughout the 16th to the 18th centuries.
18th Century Iron Tools
These three iron tools include, from left to right, a curved blade, a chisel and a pointing trowel.
Powell explained said that “the site has seen a series of major transformations of the landscape -- from early prehistoric wild river landscape, to late prehistoric enclosed farmed and settled landscape, to early historic landscape of marshland and mills, Victorian infrastructure and industrial landscape, followed by post-war.” He added, “The renewed interest in the area through the building of the Olympic Park regenerates the landscape and the area.”
19th Century bottles
Domestic refuse, such as these bottles and other objects, help to illuminate the daily lives of the inhabitants of east London during the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Pottery and glass containers were used for foodstuffs (beverages, sauces, preserves), pharmaceutical products (medicines, cosmetics) and household goods (ink, cleaning products),” Bradley said.
Proprietary marks reveal the manufacturers, and therefore the sources of supply. Londoners at this period consumed a mixture of locally sourced foodstuffs alongside national brands, many of which are still familiar today. Bradley continued, “Some patent medicines would fall foul of current legislation - one mixture for teething infants (Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup), marketed until the 1930s, contained unsuitably high levels of morphine, while a jar of clotted cream proclaimed its successful use in the treatment of 'consumption and debility'!”
19th Century Victorian Coffin Fitting
This gilded lead Victorian coffin fitting hints that individuals were also buried at the site. Remains of 7 individuals were found underneath what is now the Olympic Park.
The remains of one man, who died at 40-60 years old, reveal that he lived around 1300 B.C. He may have been a member of the founding community for that time. Some of the other individuals had been cremated.
20th Century Boer War Spitoon
This part of a Boer War spittoon, dating to about 1900, is inscribed “brave volunteers.”
20th Century Toy Iron Sword
A child’s toy iron sword, dating from the early to the mid 20th century, was unearthed. At least one other toy, a lead farmer’s wife figure from the 1930’s, was found at the site.
20th Century Helmet
Powell said this helmet was found at a Heavy Anti-Aircraft battery erected on the land just before WWII.
“The site had four gun emplacements, a magazine, a cordite store and a command post,” he said. “It was the first battery to shoot down an enemy plane during the inaugural raid of the Blitz on September 7, 1940.” One month later, a high explosive bomb hit it.
20th Century Toothbrush
Pitts admits that his favorite artifact of all from the Olympic Park digs is this toothbrush, which turns out to hold bittersweet meaning.
“It was made for the Carlton Hotel, one of London’s most prestigious and expensive hotels,” he said. “The Carlton was bombed, and it closed in 1940. My guess is that this very personal emblem of luxury and servitude, of industrial craftsmanship and of passing through, probably found its way out to the site in a lorry load of bomb demolition rubble.”
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