He was found lying on his front, his head twisted to the side.
An arm bent above his head while the other remained straight at
his side. As he lay entrenched in the mud of London’s Thames
river, unknown to the world for almost 500 years, his clothes
decayed and washed away.
Except his thigh-high boots.
Archaelogists say they discovered the medieval skeleton still
wearing his boots, while working on the Thames Tideway tunnel,
a project to update the city’s sewage network.
“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
While archaeologists say it’s not unusual to find old artefacts
turn up on the rivershore, the style and wear of the boots made
the find all the more unusual. The boots were made of leather,
stitched with wax flax thread, unheeled, with a single, flat
sole reinforced with “clump soles” at the front and back.
“But what is unusual about these boots is that we never find
high boots like this – they are always shoes or ankle boots,”
Richardson added. “High boots are just not very common
throughout medieval times, and actually [during] Tudor times
and the 17th century as well. If you look at pictures or
illuminated manuscripts or portraits, very few people are
The length of the boot suggests that the man probably worked in
or around the river as a dock worker, fisherman or sailor,
using the boots as waders. Mariners of the time were known to
wear long boots, explained Richardson.
Distinctive grooves in the man’s teeth, who was believed to
have died when he was 35 years old, also supports this theory.
It’s a ‘possible indication of pulling some sort of material
over the biting surface of the teeth or holding an object in
the teeth for prolonged periods of time,” Niamh Carty, an
There is also evidence of extensive degenerative joint disease
along his spine and left hip joint that showed he lived a
physical life and suffered pain every day, she added.
The theory also explains why the boots have been so
well-preserved after all these years. “While cellulosic fabrics
such as linen tend to decay in waterlogged areas, protein-based
garments like wool and especially leather survive anaerobic
damp conditions much better,” Davidson said.
“The tanning process makes leather even more durable, and if
his boots were for working in the water they may have had extra
protection like oils, fats, pitch or resin worked into the hide
which has helped them last for 500 years — better than his
The presence of the boots also suggests something more sinister
— that the death wasn’t peaceful or maybe even intentional.
MOLA Headland, whose archaelogists discovered the skeleton
noted that leather was a highly prized material at the time,
often reused and recycled. So, had he been buried by his loved
ones, it’s likely they would have removed his boots for re-use.
It’s possible that his death was tragic, either accidental,
suicide or even murder. However, archaelogists says there is no
sign of foul play.
“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,”
Richardson said. “He may have had too much to drink. We really