The First Londoner
Rob Smith looks at very special human remains that could be the oldest Londoner. Next summer you can visit the site where they were found with him
We often start the story of London with the Romans, but if you visit the Natural History Museum or the Museum of London you can see evidence of human habitation in the London area going back far far before Julius Caesar and friends! In 1935 a dentist called Alvan Marston found part of what he immediately recognized as a human skull at Swanscombe in Kent, now just outside the M25. Marston reported the find to the British Museum. Marston later found another bit of what was to be known as Swanscombe Man. Then twenty years later a third part was found – the signs of muscle attachments were similar to modern humans – and they proved an important thing Swanscombe Man was a woman.
The skull was subsequently dated to being 400,000 years old. To put that in perspective that is 200,000 years before the earliest Neanderthal. Swanscombe Woman is one of the earliest human inhabitants we know about in Britain. It’s now believed that she may in fact be an ancestor of the Neanderthal’s.
We know very little about the life of Swanscombe woman. It’s likely she was in her twenties. Primitive stone tools were found near the skull as well as animal bones (including those of an elephant). Maybe she died on a hunting trip, down among the thick forest by the side of the early Thames in a gap between ice ages. Whatever the cause why not pop in to the Natural History Museum (or see the replica at the Museum of London) and pay your respects to the mother of all Londoners.
I will be visiting the site where the Swanscombe Skull was discovered on my walk To The Lighthouse – A Walk Around The Swanscombe Peninsula on 2nd July 2016