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Who is man in the mud? Mystery of booted skeleton found in River Thames



The “mysterious” skeleton of a man in thigh-high leather boots lying face-down in mud has been discovered along the River Thames.

He is thought to be around 500 years old and was found with one arm above his head and the other bent back on itself to the side.

Experts said he could have fallen or drowned and was covered quickly by the ground as it moved with the tide.

Archaeologists said he could have been a fisherman, a mudlark – a person who scavenges in river mud for items of value – or perhaps a sailor.

His boots could date back to the late 15th century. Pic: MOLA Headland Infrastructure

The discovery of the skeleton was announced by Mola Headland Infrastructure which said: “Leather was expensive and often re-used at this time and experts believe it is unlikely that someone would have been buried wearing such a highly-prized item.

“The boots would have reached thigh height when fully extended therefore would have been ideal for walking out into the river and through the sticky Thames mud, so were perhaps waders.

“They were built to last: our conservators revealed that they were reinforced with extra soles and stuffed with an unidentified material (possibly moss) perhaps to make them warmer or improve the fit.

Excavations are taking place to build a ‘super sewer’. Pic: MOLA Headland Infrastructure

“This research suggests the person wasn’t buried deliberately and the clues also indicate the owner may have made his living from the river, which could well have led to his untimely demise.”

He was found at Tideway’s Chambers Wharf site in Bermondsey, where excavations are taking place to build the 25km-long Thames Tideway Tunnel “super sewer” to stop pollution in the river.

Experts said he could have fallen or drowned. Pic: MOLA Headland Infrastructure

The site is at a bend in the river downstream from the Tower of London, close to where the medieval Bermondsey Wall stood.

There is speculation the man could have been climbing the wall when he fell into the water.

Possibly the biggest clues about his life are deep grooves found on his teeth.

They were caused by a repetitive action like passing rope between his teeth as a fisherman might – which may also suggest that he made his living from the river.

Deep grooves found on his teeth. Pic: MOLA Headland Infrastructure

Beth Richardson, a finds specialist at MOLA Headland, said: “By studying the boots we’ve been able to gain a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a man who lived as many as 500 years ago.

“They have helped us to better understand how he may have made his living in hazardous and difficult conditions, but also how he may have died. It has been a privilege to be able to study something so rare and so personal.”

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