With his boots on, this 500-year-old skeleton passed away.

A peculiar skeleton that had been hidden for 500 years has now been discovered in the muck of London’s Thames River. With one arm raised and his face down, all that remained of his attire were a pair of black leather boots that were thigh high and mostly decayed.

Archaeologists are agog over those boots because they are an extraordinarily uncommon discovery.

According to Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), “it’s extremely rare to find any boots from the late 15th century, let alone a skeleton still wearing them,” as she told National Geographic.

Due to the lengthy and rich history of the British Isles, England has laws requiring all large developments to include archaeological evaluations and suitable preservation measures.

In an effort to lessen pollution, the bones were discovered during excavations for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a project that will drain sewage away from the Thames.

Remains and artifacts are frequently discovered in and near the Thames. Long-term residents of the river’s environs are aware of how simple it is to misplace belongings in the gloomy depths; anyone who has lived close to a body of water understands this. However, clothes of any type are very uncommon.

Most historical clothing is lost over time, and the less of it there is, the further back in time it comes from. As a result, most surviving clothing is either exceptional or elite, compared to what most people would have worn, according to dress historian and archaeological textile expert Hilary Davidson of La Trobe University in Melbourne. Davidson was not involved in the discovery and spoke with ScienceAlert about it.

Furthermore, it is very uncommon to see boots remaining on their wearer. The majority of medieval shoes discovered in London were first thrown into trash piles, where they managed to survive.

Because he was still wearing the boots, archaeologists have been able to infer some information about his life and death from his location, face-down position, and initial examination of his bones.

The well-made boots have strengthened soles, flax thread stitching, and an unidentified plant material filler inside, possibly to improve fit.

He may have worked on the river as a fisherman or sailor, using the boots as waders to protect his legs, given that they were so long—thigh-length with the tops unrolled. His teeth show signs of wear from repeated use, such as when a fisherman or sailor would put a rope through them.

The boot’s style, which according to Davidson was more like to the common working-class shoes depicted in art from the 14th and 15th centuries than the haute fashion of the day, supports this way of life.

The amazing quality of the boots’ preservation may be explained if he was a river worker.

“Anaerobic damp conditions are much better for protein-based garments like wool and especially leather to survive, whereas cellulosic fabrics like linen tend to decay in wet areas,” Davidson said.

“Leather becomes even more resilient after tanning, and if his boots were intended for use in the water, they might have had additional protection incorporated into the hide, such as oils, fats, pitch, or resin, which has allowed them to survive for 500 years – longer than his skin.”

They even provide hints as to how he passed away. According to MOLA, leather was a highly valued commodity that was frequently recycled and repurposed. Therefore, it’s possible that if his loved ones had buried him, they would have taken off his boots so they could be reused first.

This implies that his death was tragic—either intentionally or accidentally—and an analysis of his bones lends credence to this notion. He was in his early thirties. But since his bones don’t appear to have been damaged, it’s unlikely that we will ever find out if he was pushed, fell, or leaped.

The boots are currently undergoing conservation work that should provide additional insight into the material world, including what people wore, how they wore it, and their interactions with the treacherous river that has been an amazing historical thread.

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