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How the Museum of London is helping you get your hands on 10,000 years of Havering history - by visiting the shops

Adam Corsani with some of the unsorted artefacts that you could see up close Adam Corsani with some of the unsorted artefacts that you could see up close

Monday, October 21, 2013
4:00 PM

If you thought archaeology belonged in muddy fields and dusty museums, you might be surprised by what you see in Tesco next month.

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Where you can get involved

A team from the Museum of London will visit the following places:

•The Brewery, Romford, Friday, November 1 to Sunday, November 3, 10am to 6pm

•The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, Saturday, November 9 and Saturday, November 16, 10am to 8pm

•Tesco Extra, Gallows Corner, Wednesday, November 27 and Thursday, November 28. 10am to 4pm

During November you can get your hands on 500 pieces of human history that have lain buried in Havering for thousands of years – although you’ll have to give them back afterwards.

The Museum of London is appealing for help cataloguing these tools, pots and pipes that tell the story of Havering from 8,000BC right up to the present day, even if that just means a moment spent on their stall after you’ve done the shopping.

“If anybody wants to spent five minutes with us, they can learn a bit about local archaeology and at the same time help the local archaeology out,” said the museum’s Adam Corsani.

The Museum of London’s Islington archive contains 200,000 boxes and 10.2km of shelving.

Mortarium

If you use a pestle and mortar to grind up herbs and spices, you’ve got something in common with the Romans. This fragment of “mortarium” dates from about 1,800 years ago. It’s only a small piece, dug up in Havering Park in 1975, but the curve of its rim means museum workers can tell how big the original item would have been. It would likely have had a spout at one end.

The interior has grit and stone embedded to help with the grinding process.

Thousands of the items in its collection were dug up in Havering – ranging from a hand axe dug up in Rainham Marshes to fragments of pottery and a commemorative tobacco pipe found in Havering Park.

The artefacts that will be toured around the borough next month are the ones that need sorting, labelling and bagging up.

“The best thing about Havering is the early history and prehistory,” said Adam. “You don’t find as much prehistory in the city so you have to start looking at the outer boroughs.

“The earliest people in the area seem to be the Mesolithic people around 8,000BC. They were people who would have migrated because they landscape was suited to their needs.”

Mesolithic hand axe

This hand axe, found by Rainham walkers in 1968, dates from between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. If it’s at the older end of the scale, it might have been brought to Havering as a collectors’ item.

It has an indent, possibly to make it easier to hold, and a sharpened edge, perhaps used for cutting food.

“Most people think stone age man was clubbing their way through life, but it was much more sophisticated,” said Adam.

Part of the project is to help the museum rediscover some of these artefacts, many of which have been stuffed into large bags and boxes, so its experts can learn more about Havering.

Walking around the corridors and shelves, it’s easy to forget what’s inside the rows of boxes.

“When you work here you can get blasé about it,” admitted Adam, “but, when you think everything here belonged to somebody, you realise it’s quite an amazing thing we’ve got custody of.”

Look at the boxes to the right of this story to find out more about some of the things that have been dug up in Havering, and for the dates, times and locations you can catch some of these artefacts.

Pipe

Not everything found in Havering is thousands of years old. This engraved pipe dates from the 1851 exhibition at the Crystal Palace’s “Great Exhibition”.

Tobacco pipes were often one-use only – you’d smoke them and throw them away, like cigarettes today, but this one is commemorative.

“It’s a bit like going to see your local team play and buying a lighter with their name on it,” said Adam.

This one was dug up by the former Passmore Edwards Museum, based in Newham, which closed its doors in 1994 due to a lack of cash.

Click on the photo gallery above to see more pictures from the archive.

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