Dem Dry Bones

Vicky asks:

Any idea why there might be so many burnt animal bones on the Greenwich foreshore – on the beach by the river in front of the Greenwich University / Trinity buildings?

There are literally thousands of them … and some of them are quite big – we suspect that some of them are sheep bones, but we are not sure of the rest. Or how they might have got there.

The Phantom replies:

The river fetches up some weird stuff on Greenwich Beach, not least because we’re on a bend that catches all kinds of detritus in the tides. Sometimes it’s china sherds, sometimes bits of ancient London.

Occasionally it’s treasure (of the archeaological variety, very rarely actual gold and silver)  though not very often on the surface – you need to dig for that and you need a license, though try telling those scary gangs excavating on an almost industrial level (or so I’m told)  up and down the river, not that I’ve ever seen any at Greenwich.

Thinking about it, there’s something quite Dickensian about gangs of mudlarks operating on the Thames by dead of night, searching for London’s buried treasures. I hope they have suitably ghoulish names. Suggestions here,chaps…

Still, beachcoming is usually quite fun and can turn up nice stuff. Mind you, the best thing I’ve ever found was a slightly gruesome Victorian syringe. Yerk.

There are nearly always bits of clay pipe. There are so many of them I’ve even seen weird jewellery made from pipe sherds on the market.

And at the moment it’s bones.

I’d say these are almost certainly nothing to do with any kind of strange libations from weird cults on the foreshore, but have been brought downriver over the hours – perhaps days, weeks or even years.

Bones, especially burnt ones, are very light, so presumably they wash together and congregate when the tide goes out, but where they come from is harder to say. An abbatoir further up river? Though one that tips out directly into the Thames is an unpalatable thought.

Any ideas, folks?


the attachments to this post:

animal bones low
animal bones low


5 Comments to “Dem Dry Bones”

  1. JOF says:

    Anything to do with the Hospital feeding generations of pensioners on cheap meat perhaps, ie. the stuff that’s left on (and in) the bones?
    Suggestions for mudlark gang names: Greenwich grubbers, Peninsula picaroons, Thames toshers. OK, maybe they sound a bit more Ransome than Dickens.

  2. Tim says:

    I always believed (though I don’t know why) is that the bones are from old glue factories along the Thames.

  3. Jane Sidell says:

    The bones are largely cow bones with some sheep – there are a mixture of slaughter waste – bits from the head and the feet, and also meat waste – elements of the long bones. Its possible that they have swirled around and landed here, but its also possible that it is rubbish from the Palace and/or Hospital that was dumped over the river wall, sunk into the silt and is now being eroded.

  4. I’m one of those goulish mudlarkers you refer to and I can confirm that there is plenty of history being washed up daily on the shores of the Thames. I live in Greenwich and often mudlark the shores there. No digging allowed in front of the Naval College now, as it is a protected site, but to be honest there’s really no need to dig unless you’re a greedy git because there’s plenty of history to be found with a sharp eye. The bones you see in Greenwich mainly come from the kitchens of the Tudor Palace that was demolished to make way for Christopher Wren’s Naval College, some may also come from the kitchens of the college. If you look carefully at the bones you will see cut marks and signs of butchery on many. Get closer to the mud and you will find nut shells, oyster shells, peach and plum stones and plenty of other evidence of feasting, along with Tudor pins, pottery, clay pipes and other ‘treasures’. Don’t expect to find much silver and gold, but if it’s hands on history you’re after it’s all down there on the foreshore. If you’re interested see my Facebook page for some of my finds:
    http://www.facebook.com/LondonMudlark

  5. Helenoftheways says:

    I thought perhaps they could be the bones of the unfortunate gents who dangled from the gibbets.