London's 'Mudlark' Pulls Treasure From The Thames

Started by gash, November 26, 2019, 10:06:18 pm

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On the north side of the river Thames, between a pub and a railway bridge, there's a rickety staircase down to another world. Or rather, several worlds, layered on top of each other and jumbled together in the slightly stinky river mud. It's a bright, blowy day -- seagulls are wheeling overhead, barges pass by in the background, and everywhere I look, there are little fragments of history.

Centuries ago, poor children scraped a living here, scavenging among piles of bones, household junk and worse that washed down from the city. They were called mudlarks, and their work was dirty and dangerous. Today, people still pick things out of the river mud, but now it's the history they're looking for. Writer Lara Maiklem is one of these modern-day mudlarks -- and in fact, her new book is called Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames.

Maiklem been mudlarking for more than fifteen years, and her book is a detailed tour of both the Thames and the treasures you can find there. Like a mysterious brown thing I dig out of the mud by my feet. "That could be Roman," she says. "It hasn't got any glaze on it. It's got some quite large inclusions in it, so it could be a piece of Roman pottery. Well done, well done!"

We're basically walking on a giant garbage dump, Maiklem says. Shattered pottery, chunks of Roman heating ducts, roof tiles scarred by the great fire of London, glass bottles and clay pipes and so, so many bones, the relics of centuries of dinner. These objects tell everyday stories, about lives that don't end up in the history books.

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