Neolithic cranium found on the Thames foreshore

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The mudlarked cranium has been assessed by osteologists at the Museum of London and is now on display there. (IMAGE: Museum of London)

The oldest human cranium fragment ever mudlarked from the Thames (found on its foreshore) has been identified as Neolithic. The cranium was discovered by Martin Bushell while he was walking along the south bank of the river, just one week after starting his new hobby of mudlarking.

Martin told CA: ‘It was my usual lunchtime jaunt to the foreshore. I came across what looked like the bottom of a bowl in the water. As I picked it up, it looked like a crab shell (quite large for the Thames, I thought) but as I started turning and investigating what I had in my hand, it dawned on me that it looked like the top of a skull. I enquired with another detectorist passing by, and asked on a Mudlarking Facebook page (The River Thames Mudlarking Finds) whether it looked like a skull. My phone went berserk. Because of the nature of the find and my Port of London Authority licence, I called the police to inform them of possible human remains. At the same time, I also phoned and emailed Stuart Wyatt, the Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London.’

Once handed in to the police, the cranium was radiocarbon dated to 3,600 BC, making it the oldest piece of mudlarked human remains yet recovered from the Thames. The fragment, which comes from the top part of the cranium, was then passed to the Museum of London, where it was analysed by Dr Rebecca Redfern, Curator of Human Osteology. She found that, based on morphological characteristics, the individual that it came from was most likely an adult male. With analysis complete, Martin has now donated the cranium to the Museum of London, where it is now on display in their ‘London before London’ gallery, placed among other Neolithic finds from the Thames.

‘This is an incredibly significant find, and we’re so excited to be able to showcase it at the Museum of London,’ said Rebecca. ‘The Thames is such a rich source of history for us, and we are constantly learning from the finds that wash up on the foreshore.’

For more on the archaeology of the Thames foreshore, see our feature on the Thames Discovery Programme in CA 350.

This article appeared in CA 350.

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