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Mudlarkers and archaeologists find grave on Thames foreshore

Photographs of a human skull found on the foreshore near Burrell’s Wharf on the Thames prompted a police investigation in April 2009 but, having decided the skull was ancient, the police then handed over the evidence to the Museum of London Osteology Section. The Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) were alerted to the discovery and began their own investigation, together with the skull’s original finder, Nick Stevens of the Thames and Field Metal Detecting Society.

The fact that the skull had survived with its jawbone intact suggested a possible articulated burial. A team of volunteer and professional archaeologists from the TDP visited the Isle of Dogs site in January 2010, and found the largely complete skeleton of a fairly young individual (probably around 12 years old) buried on the foreshore.

‘Excavation was challenging to say the least,’ says Nathalie Cohen of the TDP, ‘as the burial lay very close to the low tide level. We only had around an hour to uncover, lift and record the bones, and this process was made more difficult by the fact that every time a vessel went by the wash threatened to carry away any exposed material.’

Carbon dating has established that the bove The skull found near Burrell’s Wharf, photographed and excavated in advance of the day’s oncoming high tide.

burial took place in the period between AD 1735 and 1805, at a time when the Isle of Dogs was largely undeveloped, with a line of mills stretching along the western side of the Isle (hence ‘Millwall’), ‘Horseferry House’ at the southern tip of the peninsula, and a gallows in between. Osteoarchaeology staff at the Museum of London are now analysing the remains in order to see whether they can work out what caused the death of someone who ended up in such an unusually sited grave.


current archaeology |

March 2010 |