Mysterious centuries-old skeleton found in Thames with its boots still on

Credit: MOLA Headland Infrastrucutre

Archaeologists are attempting to piece together clues about a mysterious centuries-old skeleton found in the Thames - with its leather boots still on.

It was discovered at a site in Bermondsey, where work is currently underway building the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The skeleton, believed to be a man from the 15th or 16th century, was found lying face-down deep in the mud, with thigh-high leather boots still around its legs.

A researcher examines the skeleton found on the Thames riverbed. Credit: MOLA Headland Infrastrucutre

Researchers at MOLA Headland which made the find speculate the man may have made his living from the river, and could have died in an accident such as getting stuck in the mud or falling in.

The boots - which were reinforced with extra soles and stuffed with a material to make them warmer or improve the fit - were a valuable item at the time, as they were made of leather.

The leather boots would have been valuable at the time. Credit: MOLA Headland Infrastrucutre

This means it is unlikely the person was deliberately buried in them.

By studying the boots we’ve been able to gain a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a man who lived as many as 500 years ago. They have helped us to better understand how he may have made his living in hazardous and difficult conditions, but also how he may have died. It has been a privilege to be able to study something so rare and so personal.

Beth Richardson, Finds Specialist at MOLA Headland

The archaeologists behind the find think he could have been a fisherman, a mudlark or perhaps a sailor.

Deep grooves in the skeleton's teeth suggest he may have passed rope using his mouth. Credit: MOLA Headland Infrastrucutre

While they note it is not unusual to find burials in this sort of area, the man's position was unusual, suggesting he fell or drowned and was covered by the ground on the riverbed.

The osteologists say it is possible he was under 35 years of age, and deep grooves found on his teeth suggest they were caused by a repetitive action such as passing rope between his teeth, as a fisherman might.