Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mudlarking on the Thames

Thing One and I (along with our No. 1 science enthusiast friends Ella and Kirstin) kicked off Science Week in style, by putting on our very best Wellies and heading out to do some mudlarking on the Thames River foreshore.

This was our second mudlarking trip, and we were hoping for some good finds. It is truly amazing what you can find during the low tide of the Thames. The last time around, we found some interesting fish net tags, as well as loads of oyster shells, some old bones and a few broken bits of china. This time, as you can see below, Thing One even found a bike, but as we thought it wouldn't attract much interest on eBay, we left it where we found it.

The reason why the finds are so varied and plentiful is simple: people used to-- and sadly, sometimes still do-- throw everything away in the Thames. Broken crockery, animal remains, the last bits of dinner, industrial garbage: it all wound up in the Thames. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, some families threw their valuables in the river in the hope they'd find them later.

Mudlarking turned into a job-- of sorts-- during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s when children and old woman would search the shores for things of value. Occasionally, the Great Fire valuables would turn up, but more often than not, they'd be fighting over a single lump of coal. It truly was one of the worst jobs in Victorian times.

While tripping over these old bits of china and oyster shells, I found myself thinking, "What in the world were they doing: throwing all this garbage in the river? Didn't they know any better?" But then I looked ahead 100 years when I'm sure there will be people thinking the same thing about how we live our lives.

By the end of the session, we found some great things: part of a tankard's handle from Medival times, the bottom of a pot from Tudor times, and some pretty pieces of blue Victorian china. The best find of the day, though, was made by someone in our group who found a perfectly preserved piece of a bottle's neck, made during the Tudor period [see above]. The man pictured is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a 17th-century Jesuit who abhorred drinking-- as well as King James I-- so his face was put on to alcohol bottles as a joke. You could consider it an olden-times-anti Surgeon General's Warning.

After a very muddy afternoon, we headed home with our Thames treasures.

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