Archaeologists dug a site along the Thames Tideway Tunnel – a massive pipeline nicknamed London's "Super Sewer" – has discovered the skeleton of a medieval man who literally died with his boots.
"It's extremely rare to find any boots by the end of the 15th century, let alone a skeleton that still carries them," says Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archeology (MOLA). "And these are very unusual boots for the time – thigh boots with flapped tops, they would have been expensive, and how this man came to them is a mystery." Were they needed? T know. "
Unearthing Skeletons is not uncommon in major construction projects in London, where land has been reused countless times over the centuries and many burial sites have been overbuilt and forgotten. (Learn about London's rich history.) But the archaeologists immediately noticed that this skeleton was different.
The body position ̵
In light of these indications, archaeologists believe that the man died by mistake and his body was never recovered, although the cause of death is unclear. Maybe he fell into the river and could not swim. Or he may have been caught in tidal mud and drowned.
Sailor, fisherman or "Mudlarker"?
Five hundred years ago, this section of the Thames – two miles downstream from the Tower of London – was a bustling maritime neighborhood of wharves and warehouses, workshops and taverns. The river was flanked by the Bermondsey Wall, an approximately 15-meter high medieval earthworks built to protect the banks of the river from tidal waves.
Given the neighborhood, the ejected man may have been a sailor or a fisherman, a possibility strengthened by physical evidence. Strong grooves in his teeth may have been caused by repeated squeezing of a rope. Or maybe he was a "mud runner," a colloquial term for those who haunt the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide. The man's wader-like thigh boots would have been ideal for such work.
"We know he was very powerfully built," says Niamh Carty, osteologist or skeleton specialist at MOLA. "The muscle attachments on his chest and shoulders are very noticeable, and the muscles have been built up through long, hard and repetitive work."
It was work that demanded physical tribute. Although the man was only in his early thirties, he was suffering from osteoarthritis, and the vertebrae in his back had already merged after years of flexing and lifting. Hips on the left hip indicate he was limping and his nose was broken at least once. Obviously there is a blunt force trauma on his forehead that was healed before his death.
"He did not have an easy life," says Carty. "At the beginning of the thirties, he was middle-aged, but his biological age was still older."
The investigation continues. Isotope analysis will reveal where the man grew up, whether he was an immigrant or a London native. and what kind of diet did he have.
"His family never had any answers or a grave," says Carty. "What we do is an act of remembrance, we finally let its story be told."