A 5,000-Year-Old Human Bone Was Found in the River Thames

Well preserved by mud, the femur dates to Britain’s Neolithic period

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A 5,000-year-old human bone was discovered on the banks of the River Thames in London, reported the BBC’s Harriet Orrell last month. Dating back to between 3516 and 3365 B.C.E., the femur is one of the oldest objects ever found in the Thames, wrote Time Out’s Alice Saville.

Graphic designer Simon Hunt came across the upper leg bone during a morning row. Lying on the rocky riverbed at low tide, the bone looked quite old, Hunt told the BBC, but he was concerned it could have been a more recent deposit.

“I have no idea what a bone would look like if it had only been in the water for two years, so what if it was something more sinister?” he said.

To keep the bone safe, Hunt picked it up out of the water, put it in a clear plastic bag, and brought it home to show his wife. He called the police, who wanted to investigate the site where he found the bone, but they arrived when the area was submerged by high tide.

Hunt had to wait several months for results after the police sent the bone for lab testing. When he got the call to come pick it up, investigators asked him to guess when the bone was from.

“My own frame of reference for old things that are tangible is sort of medieval, but I was way off,” Hunt told the BBC.

The bone was dated to the Neolithic period in Britain, which spanned from 4300 to 2000 B.C.E., the Independent’s Emily Atkinson wrote. Britain’s culture transformed significantly during this time, as the advent of farming, pottery, tools and funeral traditions laid way for civilization.

The person that the bone came from lived before the creation of Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Giza, noted Time Out. Though archaeologists have been able to estimate the person was about 5 feet 7 inches tall, they haven’t determined the person’s age or sex.

Many historical artifacts have been found in the Thames, as the river’s mud has low oxygen levels that makes it a great environment for preservation, per the BBC. London requires a license from the Port of London Authority to partake in “mudlarking,” or searching for valuable objects on the riverbanks.

Hunt hopes his bone will become part of the Museum of London’s collection, where it could be displayed alongside a fragment of a Neolithic skull dated between 3645 and 3600 B.C.E., also plucked from the river and in the museum’s possession. For now, the femur is being kept at his house, “somewhere where the cat can’t have a nibble,” he told the BBC.

“I want to be respectful because this was a person,” he said. “This bone was part of someone’s leg, who was walking around here more than 5,000 years ago.”