Medieval skeleton’s boots reveal harsh realities of life on the Thames
Thursday December 6, 2018. 04:12 PM , from Ars Technica
The skeleton had lain buried for about 500 years in the muddy silt of Chamber’s Wharf, a site located at a bend in the river just downstream from the Tower of London. Debris in the river tends to accumulate in bends like this one, so there’s no way to be sure exactly where the man fell in. But he ended up face-down in the mud at Chamber’s Wharf, with one arm stretched over his head and the other twisted to the side. The tide-washed sediment would have covered him quickly, the team says, holding his body in place and helping preserve the thigh-high leather boots he was wearing when he died.
The boots are a tangible, deeply personal link to how the unknown man lived, and they offer some hints at how he probably died. They’re comparable to the tall wading boots currently worn by fishermen, sewage workers, water utility crews, and many other industrial workers wear today: thigh-high boots with sturdy reinforced double soles, stuffed with a material that might be moss to keep the wearer’s feet warm or make the boots fit more snugly.
Based on their design, the boots date to the late 1400s or early 1500s, and they’re not the sort of item the man would have taken to his grave on purpose. Leather was a valuable commodity at the time, and almost no one in the working class would have buried such an expensive pair of boots—not when they, or their material, could be reused. Like his awkward final resting position, the man’s boots suggest an untimely, unexpected death.
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