Mudlarking is a time-honored practice of scavenging a riverbed or harbor for goods and treasures. The term comes from eighteenth century London, where many residents, particularly children, survived in this manner. It remains a popular past-time for treasure seekers to this day. Due to its long tradition, the hobby enjoys many of its own terminology and sayings, specialized knowledge, and even superstitions, as can be seen in this video.
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In the video, a licensed London mudlark who goes by the handle Old Father Thames demonstrates some of the more mysterious aspects of the trade, as well as shares the Mudlark saying that “the Thames sorts things for you.” This particular video showcases what she calls “a boney patch,” in which layers upon layers of bones have washed up on shore, covering an entire section of the riverbed in “clackety” remains.
The mudlarker explains that the bones in the video are animal bones, washed up here for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years from London butchers, tanneries, taverns, and even homes. Over time, they have been cleaned and smoothed by the work of the water and tides. For centuries, the Thames was the city’s dump, and every kind of waste imaginable was tossed into the river.
She’s also quick to jump on conspiracy theorists in the comments section claiming the bones belong to children. Though there are probably plenty of human bones dumped in the Thames over the last few thousands years, this is not Sweeney Todd on a large scale. Simply a fact of history. These are millions of bones washed up every day, and it would be impossible for archaeologists to test an entire riverbed. Though occasionally mudlarkers happen upon a suspicious set to send in to archaeologists, the vast majority of these remains are from animals simply used for food and clothing.