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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Sub-tropical paradise in London
The East End of London used to be a sub-tropical paradise with swaying palm trees, shallow warm waters and exotic marine species.

Sub-tropical scene, Natural History Museum
Stratford, 55 million years ago
Artist's impression courtesy Natural History Museum
This is the conclusion drawn by Dr Jackie Skipper, palaeontologist at the UK's Natural History Museum, from fossils uncovered by digging work on London's Channel Tunnel rail link.

Dr Skipper has found oyster, shark teeth and exotic palm tree fossils which show that Stratford in east London had a climate similar to today's South China seas 55.5 million years ago.

Work on the rail link to the Channel Tunnel has carved out a trench 1.1 kilometres (two-thirds of a mile) long, 40 metres (44 yards) wide and more than four storeys deep.

Sharks in the streets

"This exciting find gives us valuable evidence of what London's landscape used to look like," Dr Skipper said.

"We are talking Malaysia, Thailand - that kind of temperature - in east London.

Dr Jackie Skipper and fossil find, Natural History Museum
The fossils are in pristine condition
Image courtesy Natural History Museum
"We've got palm trees, we've got sharks, we've got shells and a sandy beach," she told the BBC.

"We've got these huge banks of oysters, we've got evidence of enormous earthquakes, of a sub-tropical paradise in east London with sharks swimming through the streets.

"It's just an extraordinary picture and it's really contributing to our understanding of the time," Dr Skipper said.

The Natural History Museum has been providing advice during the digging work and this has helped secure the fossils.

The remnants of the East End's tropical past will be held at the Natural History Museum and made available to researchers.

At the time they were deposited, much of what is now north-west Europe was under a shallow sea and probably only the Midlands, West Country and Scotland were above sea level.

Volcanoes were erupting in Scotland and earthquakes and ash falls were regular occurrences.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The waters were warm and filled with exotic marine life"

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