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7,000-year-old timbers found under MI6 headquarters

The oldest wooden structure ever found on the Thames has been discovered right underneath MI6 headquarters.

The archaeologists who uncovered the six hefty timber piles had to explain to the security services what they were up to when armed police turned up after they were spotted pottering about on a foggy day in the mud, armed only with tripods, cameras and measuring equipment – not, as one spectator had apparently reported, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

“They accepted there wasn’t much damage we could do with a tripod,” said Gustave Milne, the archaeologist who leads the Thames Discovery programme that has been surveying the entire prehistoric foreshore, uncovering centuries of ancient wharves, fish traps, jetties and ship timbers.

The timbers, partly scoured bare by erosion of the river bed, the largest up to a third of a metre in diameter, were discovered in work during exceptionally low tides last February, but carbon dating work – revealed in the new edition of London Archaeologist journal – has only recently been completed, proving that the trees were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC.

Although the site is now exposed only at the lowest tides, the ancient Thames was narrower and deeper, and Milne believes that 7,000 years ago the timbers may have been built on dry land, possibly at the highest point of a small island.

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