He was found lying on his front, his head twisted to the side. One hand leaned over his head, suggesting that he fell – or perhaps he was pushed – until his death in the river more than five centuries ago.
But, aside from his puzzling position, the skeleton discovered this year near the Thames in London was known for another, very special reason. Although his clothes had long since collapsed, the man's legs were a pair of remarkably well-preserved – and extremely rare – boots with leathery skins. Could they have clues, archaeologists wondered who the man was, and perhaps in what way he died?
The man's secret in the medieval fence was discovered in Bermondi by archaeologists working on the Thames Threesome tunnel, the so-called "super-sanitation" is currently being built to update the Victorian sewage network in the capital.
It's not unusual to find bodies on the shore, but the style and preservation of human footwear, made of leather "quarters" stitched together with a waxy linen thread, is remarkable, archaeologists say.
"The skin can be very well preserved in London, especially if it has been found in a ditch that would be full of water or near the river," said Beth Richardson, an expert for the archaeological team of Mela Heffland Infrastructure. In the absence of any metal work or other evidence of giving, the style of the boots – opaque, with a single, flat hardened reinforcement with "insoles" on the front and back – dates from the skeleton by the end of the 1400s or early 1500s years .
"But what's unusual about these boots is that we never find such boots – they are always shoes or boots for ankle," Richardson said. "High boots are not very common in medieval times and in fact [during] Tudor views and the 17th century as well. If you look at pictures or illuminated manuscripts or portraits, very few people wear boots. "
The fact that they reach the knee, probably boots are blades, experts say, allowing the man to work in or around the river as a port, tile or fisherman. According to Richardson, it is known that sailors wear long boots from that time, as evidenced by the large number of wrecks found on the Tudor warship Maria Rosa.
And as their modern equivalent welcome, they are nothing fancy. "These were very simple boots," Richardson said. They are not at all fashionable, they do not have currents or anything – they are practical, everyday boots. "The protective work to preserve the skin is still ongoing, and there is no emergency plan for placing boots.
Plant materials found inside the boots have yet to be analyzed, but archaeologists doubt it is a moss added to keep the feet of the man warm as he faded.
However, without his specific footwear, there are clues about his identity. Evidence of extensive degenerative joint disease along the hip and left hip, he lived physically and suffered daily pain, according to Niam Carty, an osteologist. Although she could not rule out that she was younger than 35, she believes that she is probably much older.
In addition, the man has recognizable grooves in his teeth, "a possible indication of pulling some material through the bite of the teeth or holding a subject in his teeth for a long time," says Carty. One possibility is that he pulls a rope between his teeth, as a fisherman can.
As for how a man came to die, we will never know for sure, but there is no evidence of a violation of the game, according to archaeologists.
"Maybe he worked in the river and the tide got too much for him, maybe he fell, maybe he's tired," Richardson said. "Maybe I had too much to drink. We really do not know."