Londons Diluvial or Pleistocene park

The discovery of large animal bones buried a few feet below the ground in central London came as quite a surprise when the foundations for some of the grand buildings around Trafalgar Square were dug out in the late nineteenth century. The same rich seam was uncovered with post Second World War redevelopment of some of the surrounding 'empire' buildings such as New Zealand House, Uganda House and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Identification of the bones revealed an extraordinary bestiary of elephant, rhino, hippo, giant deer, oxen, horse, hyaena and big cats. What were animals normally associated with Africa doing in central London?

The soft riverbed silts containing the bones were fairly superficial deposits but were covered with soil or Alluvium, so they were not modern in origin. Although King Charles II had kept a menagerie of wild beasts in the Tower of London in the seventeenth century and the Emperor Claudius's Roman legions brought elephants to Britain in AD 43, these remains were evidently still older.

By the early decades of the nineteenth century, patches of near-surface, 'soft' sediments were found plastered over the landscapes of the British Isles, northern

Europe, Asia and North America. Sometimes similar remains of recognisable large mammals were found and the deposits were commonly referred to as the Diluvium. They were not much more ancient than the superficial Alluvium, since these diluvial sediments are still soft and have not been lithified into rock strata. Also, diluvial fossils tend to be very well preserved and can easily be mistaken for the bones and shells of living creatures. However, when closely examined by experts they generally turn out to belong to extinct species.

As we have seen, the name Diluvium is Latin and means flood or deluge. The word was in use by the mid-seventeenth century when the famous English diarist, John Evelyn, referred in his entry for August 15th, 1655 to 'the calculation of coincidence with the diluvial period'. The following year Blount's Glossary defined Diluvium as 'belonging to a deluge or flood, especially to the Flood as recorded in Genesis'.

John Evelyn, 1620-1706, an English traveller, diarist and scandal-monger, who proposed to the chemist Robert Boyle the foundation of the Royal Society (in 1660), the oldest-surviving scientific society, of which Evelyn became secretary in 1672.

0 0

Post a comment