The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) unveiled the finds as it announced that archaeological investigations have been completed on the sites of the ‘Big Five’ permanent venues.
The four prehistoric skeletons were found buried in graves around an area of Iron Age settlement on the Aquatics Centre site. They were carefully removed for further study and one of the skeletons, thought to be 3000 years old, was unveiled today as the ODA launched a community and schools archaeology project in the London 2012 Host Boroughs.
The year-long ‘Discover’ project will give local people an insight into the fascinating past of the Olympic Park through school visits, a community dig and roadshows across the boroughs.
Previous archaeological finds around the Olympic Park site including a Roman coin, Roman river walls, Second World War gun emplacements and a complete 19 century boat used for hunting wild fowl on the lower River Lea. Archaeologists have also been charting the topography of the site to build a picture of how the land and waterways have developed and how climate change has affected the area.
Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said: 'The Discover project will engage the communities of London as a whole - and the Lower Lea Valley in particular - allowing them to take an active part in the regeneration of their city. The ‘big dig’ on the Olympic Park offers a unique opportunity to witness and understand the fascinating history of this part of east London from ancient to modern.
'This is yet another example of how hosting the 2012 Olympic Games means much more than just a fortnight of sport – rather a source of education, interest and community participation before, during and after the Games.'
ODA Chief Executive David Higgins said: 'We are using the opportunity of cleaning and clearing the Olympic Park to help people learn more about the fascinating story of the Lower Lea valley before it is transformed for future generations. The early Londoners discovered on the site and previous fascinating finds tell a story of change and transformation. Our ‘Discover’ programme is an opportunity to share this story with local people and encourage local children to be excited both about the past and future of the area.'
Museum of London Chief Archaeologist Kieron Tyler said: 'The Olympic site has been developed through mainly industrial use, but 3000 years ago it was an open river valley, the area of the Aquatics Centre was close to where the rivers Lea and Thames met. Such an area, on the banks of the Lea, was attractive to early settlers who could hunt on the dry land and fish in the river. This exciting evidence for early settlement shows us how early peoples used the Olympic Park.'
English Heritage Regional Archaeological Advisor for London, Robert Whytehead, said: 'English Heritage welcome the ODA’s early engagement with the capital’s historic environment. This work will provide an important foundation upon which a successful London 2012 Games can be delivered. London’s outstanding heritage is an immense asset and will undoubtedly provide a memorable backdrop to the celebration of sporting excellence.'
The four skeletons were discovered in four separate graves in a cemetery within an Iron Age settlement found on the Aquatics Centre site. Analysis of the remains is just beginning, but it appears that there is a mix of male and female burials. Other remains show that these early Londoners lived in thatched circular huts on the site that will boast a Zaha Hadid designed Aquatics Centre, but in the Iron Age would have been a small area of dry land on the edge of the river valley, surrounded by lakes, rivers and marshes. The first Londoners lived by and fished in what is now the River Lea and parts of their cooking pots have also been discovered. The Aquatics Centre will be beside the river which is currently being widened by 8 metres as part of a programme to restore the ancient waterways of the Lower Lea Valley.
The ODA invited Museum of London archaeologists and Pre-Construct Archaeology (MoLAS-PCA) to look for evidence of the original prehistoric Londoners right through to Roman, Viking, medieval and relatively recent industrial and military activities on the Olympic Park site.
Over 140 trenches have been dug and investigated and archaeological work has completed on the areas of the ‘Big Five’ permanent venues – the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre, VeloPark, Olympic Village and the IBC/MPC. Interesting remains have either been photographed and recorded or removed to form part of the Museum of London’s collection. The archaeological research is interlinked with work preparing for construction and shows that nothing of national importance requiring preservation on site is expected to be found. Investigations continue on other areas of the Olympic Park site.
The ‘Discover’ programme launched today will offer people in the London 2012 Host Boroughs a chance to get actively involved and piece together for themselves the history of their neighbourhood. They can get hands on experience at the community dig or see the results at travelling roadshows that will tour the boroughs. Local schools visits will uncover the stories behind the archaeological finds and the Olympic Park past. The programme starts in May and details of upcoming events will be available at www.london2012.com/discover
Community Archaeologist at Museum of London Kate Sutton said 'Community digs connect local people with the past lives of the areas they live in, offering a bridge between generations and communities. We’re particularly excited about running the Discover project around the Olympic Park, which offers rich possibilities for the public to be involved in new discoveries.'
Olympic Park timeline:
- 3000BC: wetlands which the early Londoners navigated by timber walkways to fish and hunt.
- 50AD: the Roman road ‘Ermine Street’ from London to Colchester crossed marshes
- Late 9th century – King Alfred reputedly dug Channelsea river to divert invading Vikings from the Thames on their way to London
- 1110: The first stone arch ‘bow’ bridge in Britain, gave the area its name
- 1135: Cistercian Abbey exploited Lea water power
- Late 12th century: Knights Templar water mill (Temple Mills)
- 17th/18th century: UK’s first calico printer and porcelain factory
- 1892: UK’s first petrol factory.
- 1858: The Northern Outfall Sewer constructed
- 1860: Plastic invented in the Lea Valley
- 1876: Dry cleaning introduced to the UK
- 1904: William Yardley cosmetics, soap and lavender factory
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For further information please contact the Olympic Delivery Authority Press Office on +44 (0)203 2012 700.
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