The Thames foreshore is the source of nearly half of all prehistoric finds in the London area. The oldest remains, skull fragments of "Swanscombe lady", found with the bones of cave bear, straight-tusked elephant and fallow deer in Kent, suggest early humans may have camped beside the Thames as far back as 420,000 years ago.
By the Bronze Age (2750bc to 700bc), the river was well established as an important highway and "sacred stream", into which local tribes cast their dead, along with valuable possessions. The objects that have led archaeologists to this conclusion include a polished jadeite axe unearthed at Mortlake, but made from stone found in the Alps, a decorative Iron-Age shield plucked from the river at Battersea, and a ceremonial horned helmet dredged from beneath Waterloo Bridge.
"The river is a hugely important archaeological source," says Jon Cotton, curator of prehistory at the Museum of London. "It's a vast store; there's hardly a variety of object that isn't represented."