Olympic Park reveals new finds
Excavations at the Olympic Park site by Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS, now MoLA) and Pre-Construct Archaeology working as a joint venture (MoLAS-PCA), and RPS Planning and Development and AOC Archaeology Group produced a number of waterlogged finds of wood and leather, some of which underwent archaeological conservation at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre as part of the post-excavation programme undertaken by Wessex Archaeology.
A wooden stake was brought to the History Centre for conservation which was the largest of a group of three found driven into sand and gravel deposits which filled an old channel in the Lea Valley. The stake was discovered inclined at an angle and was identified as alder. The channel fill also contained worked and burnt flint and yielded radiocarbon dates from the Early Neolithic. Axe marks on the stake, though vague, suggest that the stake was cut with an unusual type of blade for the period, possibly a ceremonial or Scandinavian form of tool.
The leather objects from the site comprised a length of hosepipe, a gun holster or rifle bucket and fragmentary remains of two shoes. The leather was all recovered from a dump of material filling the channel of the River Lea. This material was deposited above an early 19th century boat, suggesting that these items were discarded in the later part of that century at the earliest.
The length of leather hosepipe has been identified as an 18th century feed hose and is similar to some found on pumps used in fire fighting from this period. It is a tube of thick leather with a long seam running along its length. Impressions in the leather at one end indicate that it was attached to something, probably by a brass coupling.
The rifle bucket is a relatively rare find in archaeological contexts. The style of this particular example suggests it may have been manufactured earlier than many of the other items found within this deposit. It was made from moulded cattle hide and would originally have had another part seamed onto the lower end to hold the barrel of the weapon but this is now missing. The slits in the upper part of the holster would originally have held a strap to attach it to a saddle. This object was old and heavily worn when it was discarded. Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology suggest it may have belonged to a member of a local Yeomanry division.
Fragmentary remains of shoes were also recovered from the same deposits. A square-toed, welted shoe was recognisable amongst these pieces and may have been a Victorian work boot, as it appears to have been heavily hob-nailed. Many of the iron hobnails have been lost through corrosion but it was possible for conservators at the History Centre to consolidate the remaining metal to prevent further damage.
All the objects were first cleaned of surface soiling as far as possible with distilled water. They were then carefully treated and freeze-dried to safely remove the water without causing shrinkage or breakage of the leather - a process which took several weeks. After freeze-drying, the leather was dry and stable and it was possible to clean the objects more thoroughly under the microscope. The conservators were able to and examine the objects in more detail and find information that could not have been perceived when they were in their waterlogged state. This revealed further details of the construction or wear and tear that can be passed back to the archaeologists who are dealing with these finds and adds to the information produced by the excavation as a whole.