When a skeleton was discovered in London wearing well-made leather boots, one had to wonder if foul play or a drunken night led to his final resting place. London is always unearthing its forgotten and hidden history from beneath its layered city. Archaeologists are relishing to learn more about who this unfortunate individual was, and why they managed to be interred face down in the muck.
Where modern and ancient paths cross
A city like London often stumbles into its past, as the modern-day capital lies atop centuries of history layered like an onion. The River Thames has survived as a hub for generations, and when construction projects arise for necessary upgrades, it occasionally divulges some of its secrets.
Currently, the Thames Tideway Tunnel project at Tideway’s Chambers Wharf in Bermondsey led to a curious discovery. A male skeleton was found belly-side down in the mud, wearing the remnants of his leather boots. Despite investing in pricey footwear, this poor fellow still managed to end up in the gutters of London.
Fashion clues in archaeologists to the story
The River Thames has its reputation for being dangerous, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries. The boots found on the skeleton were reinforced and made from leather, which was costly but ideal for wading in the river or braving the sticky mud.
The boots were probably stuffed with moss as insulation for fit and warmth because shoe inserts were not yet trending. After lying undisturbed for 500 years, the man in his 30s showed no signs of foul play, but he did have osteoarthritis and deep grooves on his teeth from repetitive action.
Mudlarker, fisherman, or malarkey
Durable leather boots would be a prized possession for someone living in the 15th century working as fisherman, sailor, or seeking treasure as a mudlarker. The River Thames was not a forgiving place in the past, as it would be easy for someone to lose their footing and meet an early demise from the tide.
The man was not believed to be buried deliberately, despite being found with one arm above his head, and the other arm bent backward at his side. Whatever work this man did was physically demanding, and the boots were most likely made to handle wading the treacherous edges. Unfortunately, a fashion malfunction probably led this man to meet his maker before his time.