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Hippos roamed in Regent Street

London before London is a new prehistoric gallery the Museum of London launches this month. ANDRE ERASMUS has a look ...

PREHISTORY is "the time before written records" and, in Britain it spans the period from the appearance of the first humans some 500,000 years ago to the Roman invasion in AD43.

This vast period of time is one of huge changes, from the arrival of the first ancestral human species to the development of complex political communities.

Archaeology gives evidence people lived in the Thames Valley 450,000 years before the Romans founded Londinium.

It also shows, from a hippo vertebra found in the Regent Street area, these animals, along with hyena, lion, elephant and bison were in the Thames area 110,000 years ago.

Then, the climate was warmer than it is today and the the area around present-day Regent Street at this time was open grassland with hazel, maple, hawthorn and water chestnut trees.

The remains of monuments, settlements and field systems created so many thousands of years ago still survive beneath the London of today.

Large numbers of objects in the Museum's new collection show these were highly-skilled people who produced items ranging from sophisticated flint tools in earlier periods to highly decorated metalwork in later times.

From Friday, the remains of the oldest female to have been found within central London will join a detailed facial reconstruction of the earliest known Greater London woman.

The earlier skeleton, dated between 3640 and 3100BC, was found in Staines Road Farm, in Shepperton, in 1989. A facial reconstruction will be unveiled for the first time, showing a woman with striking but heavy features.

More than 3,500 years later, a second woman was buried in a Roman cemetery at Harper Road, in Southwark. Born in prehistoric times, between AD50-70, she witnessed the coming of the Romans and died in her 40s, a citizen of the Roman Empire.

These and many other fascinating facts and exhibitions will be on view in the new permanent gallery, tracing the relationship between people and their environment and the role of the River Thames.

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