This month you will see a lot of my mudlarking finds. I am thrilled to be able to poke around in the Thames gravel, and with Jonathan’s sharp eyes on the alert, we brought home a big collection of little pieces. We haven’t found any treasure (technically, in the UK, that would be gold) or gems, or anything that isn’t broken. What we do have are pieces of stone, clay, and metal from the ancient past to very recent times. This time I’ll show you the newest and the oldest.
Truly recent items are garbage (chip packets, plastic bags), though I did pick up a tiny green house from a Monopoly game.
The button is the most recent item we’ve found. It’s a bit decorative, but ordinary, made of plastic.
The other fragment may not look like much, but it comes from the first half of the 20th century. At that time, some glass items were colored with a bit of uranium to create a yellow-green color. Glass made this way is also fluorescent. The piece I picked up seems to be part of a candy dish or other decorative bowl, with a fluted edge and a bit of red coloring below. I’ve found pieces of fluorescent glass elsewhere, and am slowly collecting enough for a necklace.
The Ancient Past:
The shores of the Thames are covered with bricks, rock, and lumps of flint. The flint forms as nodules in limestone, and is a very fine grained form of silica, the same material that is called chert in the US. Flint nodules were the raw material for stone tools in ancient times, as it chips into sharp flakes and was used to make sharp-edged cutting tools. The oldest flint tools in the UK date to the Mesolithic Period, 9600-4000 BC. These were very small chipped tools called microliths. Over time, larger and more elaborate tools were created, and some of these have been recovered along the Thames.
The large quantity of flint found along the Thames is mostly lumps that were used as ballast in ships. The rock was dumped along the shore when ships arrived to create room for cargo. Among all that flint is a small number of artifacts have been found that were made from flint long before it became ballast. Some of the pieces we’ve picked up look like tools but are probably chipped by erosion rather than intentionally shaped. Still, a few pieces look a bit like scrapers.
Next time I’ll look at some of the things I’ve found that date between these two extremes.