In Brief

Thames archaeologists uncover skeleton in medieval ‘wellies’

Discovery of 500-year-old body in leather waders hailed as ‘extremely rare’

A 15th century man whose skeleton has been unearthed after 500 years in the mud of the River Thames was still wearing his thigh-high waders.

Archaeologists found the skeleton of what The Guardian has already termed “the man in the medieval wellies” in the riverbank near Bermondsey, south London, while excavating at construction sites for the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The unusually well-preserved waterproof footwear helped historians estimate that the unknown man died in the late 15th century, around the time Henry VII acceded to the throne as the first of the Tudor monarchs.

“It’s extremely rare to find any boots from the late 15th century, let alone a skeleton still wearing them," Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) told National Geographic.

The man is estimated to have been around 35 years old when he died. Examination of his remaining teeth revealed grooves which historians believe could be the result of passing rope through his teeth, suggesting he may have worked as a fisherman or a sailor.

Whatever his occupation, he was “very powerfully built" says Niamh Carty, a skeletal specialist at Mola, the result of “a lot of heavy, repetitive work over a long period of time”.

The physical of demanding manual labour left permanent marks, the National Geographic reports. Despite his relative youth, “the booted man suffered from osteoarthritis, and vertebrae in his back had already begun to fuse as the result of years of bending and lifting”.

As well as being a fascinating and rare historical artefact, the waders may even offer an insight into how the man came to end his life in the silt of the Thames, his resting place for more than five centuries.

Leather “was an expensive commodity in Tudor times”, notes CNN, and would probably have been removed from a body before formal burial, leading historians to suspect that the man died at the scene, possibly after falling into the water or becoming stuck in the tidal mud.

“His family never had any answers or a grave,” says Carty. “What we're doing is an act of remembrance. We're allowing his story to finally be told.”

Excavation projects linked to the construction of the tunnel, nicknamed the “super sewer”, have already uncovered a Victorian dry dock submerged several metres below surface mud, Infoworks reports. 

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