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Reindeer and bison at Royal Oak

Prehistoric animal bones uncovered during excavation of Royal Oak portal
Crossrail archaeology: Prehistoric animal bones uncovered at Royal Oak Portal, June 2011
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Archaeologists working at Royal Oak discovered evidence of a prehistoric landscape centred on the upper reaches of the Westbourne river. The Westbourne once flowed from Hampstead in the north, south to the Thames.

The river channel dates back 68,000 years. Pollen sampling indicates that the valley would then have been open and treeless, dominated by grasses and herbs. About 100 fragments of animal bone were recovered and have been identified as bison and reindeer. Gnawing marks on three of the bison bones indicate the presence of carnivores, such as wolves or bears, in the area.

The remains included those of the Auroch, a large ancestor of modern cattle. Bison and deer were also found within soils that have filled in a Pleistocene river channel.

The soil sequence shows that the river channel filled up with fine grain soils during a warm period during the last ice age. Erosion is likely to have washed the animal remains into the channel from a nearby bank, preserving them for thousands of years.

The rare find was of major scientific importance. Assistance was also provided by Oxford Archaeology and specialists from the Natural History Museum. The bones are now being cleaned and studied before they are incorporated into the Natural History Museum’s permanent collection.

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Prehistoric West London

About 100 fragments of animal bone were found, including three bison bones and a fragment of reindeer antler. The earliest dated sediments at the site date to about 88,000 years ago, with the animal bone layer probably around 68,000 years ago.

Analysis of the bones indicates that the animals had died near the site. Their carcasses had been scavenged by carnivores, such as wolves and bears. The antler fragments came from male reindeer and had been naturally shed, indicating that reindeer were spending the autumn and winter months at the site.