London archaeologists discover medieval skeleton in ‘wellies’

Well-preserved waders in the mud of the River Thames 📷Mola Headland

A 500 year old skeleton in the mud of the River Thames has been found still wearing his thigh-high waders

Archaeologists found the skeleton on the Thames foreshore near Bermondsey, south London, while excavating at construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The Guardian has already dubbed him ‘the man in medieval wellies‘, and the discovery that the skeleton was still wearing his unusually well-preserved waterproof footwear when he died has helped historians estimate his time of death as 15th century; roughly when Henry VII, first of the Tudor monarchs, was crowned.

Discovered by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), the man is estimated to have been around 35 years old when he died.

The fact that the boots were thigh-high make it likely that they were waders, and that the man probably worked in or around the river as a fisherman, mudlark, mariner or dock worker.

The booted man’s position was unusual: face-down, with one arm above his head with the other bent back on itself to the side. These clues could suggest that he fell or drowned and was covered quickly by the ground as it moved with the tide. 📷 MOLA Headland.

They were reinforced and had been stuffed with a plant material, possibly moss, to improve the fit, according to Beth Richardson, finds specialist at MOLA Headland.

Examination of his remaining teeth revealed grooves which Niamh Carty, an osteologist at Mola, says could indicate that he was pulling some sort of material – such as rope – over the biting surface of his teeth, adding weight to the idea that he may have worked as a fisherman or a sailor.

Whatever his occupation, he was very powerfully built according to Carty, and his bones show the hallmarks of a lot of heavy, repetitive work over a long period of time.

Despite his relative youth, he suffered from osteoarthritis, and vertebrae in his back had already begun to fuse as the result of years of bending and lifting.

As for how the man came to die, we will never know for sure, but there is no evidence of foul play, according to the archaeologists. That hasn’t stopped people speculating though!

“He may have been working in the river and the tide got too much for him, he may have fallen over, he may have been tired,” Beth Richardson – a finds specialist from Mola Headland Infrastruture told the Guardian. “He may have had too much to drink. We really don’t know.”

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Written by Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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