The preserved remains of a 4,000-year-old prehistoric yew tree dug up in the Dagenham marshes have been added to the collection at Valence House Museum. 

It was unearthed in 2018 during the Beam Park Riverside housing development at the former Ford Dagenham motorworks.

The tree shows evidence of being hollowed out and cut using fine metal tools, scientifically dated to around 2300BCE, the very early Bronze Age that ended the Neolithic Stone Age when copper tools first appeared.

An archaeological investigation was a planning requirement by Barking and Dagenham Council at the time, monitored by archaeologists from Historic England.

“Dagenham’s reputation for cutting edge technology didn’t start with the Ford Cortina,” said Adam Single from Historic England.

“We now know it stretches back more than 4,000 years, thanks to the yew tree excavation at Beam Park.”

A 10ft-deep trench exposed the prehistoric peat of marshes and woodland along the Thames waterfront.

The yew tree was preserved by waterlogging and sealing under clay silts.

Evidence showed that Bronze Age people began to hollow it out, probably to make a small dugout vessel. The rough surface was also charred, indicating that fire was used to burn off the bark and outer layers of wood.

The work was abandoned, however, probably because of a void in the wood that would have made the trunk unusable as a boat.

The tree has 12 distinct grooves made by a thin-blade metal chisel, rather than a stone, bone or antler chisel that would have been too thick to get such narrow cuts. It is evidence of early woodworking with metal tools when very few copper edge implements are known to have been used.

But the most famous find in the area was the Dagenham Idol, currently on display at Valence House, a carved wooden figure unearthed in 1922 near Beam Park during work to lay water pipes close to the Goresbrook stream. It is one of the earliest-known wooden carving of a human form found anywhere in Europe.

Radio carbon dating shows it was carved in about 2250BCE, the same timeslot as the carved yew tree dugout, when it was probably placed in the ground as an offering to the gods for the fertility of the wet marshlands that were used for hunting and animal grazing.