Martin Bushell discovered a 5,600-year-old skull of a Neolithic male while mudlarking along the River Thames in London, and after the human remains were officially dated, the skull was determined to have belonged to a young man who died at around age 18 in 3,600 BCE.
As The Guardian reported, this is the oldest skull that has ever been dredged out of the Thames, which is quite remarkable, as at first glance, Bushell had assumed that the frontal bone he had picked up from the river was actually a piece of pottery.
Once it was determined that this pottery was actually a human skull, Bushell swiftly contacted the Metropolitan Police, who performed radiocarbon dating on the specimen and determined that the pottery was in actuality the skull of a Neolithic male who had died thousands of years ago.
All human remains that are found are, by law, required to be handed over to the police to make certain that they are not more recent deaths, yet with the vast amount of ancient artifacts that are now routinely discovered in the River Thames by mudlarkers, there is always the distinct possibility that whatever has been found in the anaerobic mud of this river may be much more ancient than it first appears.
“Upon reports of a human skull fragment having been found along the Thames foreshore, detectives from south-west CID attended the scene. Not knowing how old this fragment was, a full and thorough investigation took place, including further, detailed searches of the foreshore,” DC Matt Morse stated, speaking about the Neolithic skull that was recovered from the River Thames.
Martin Bushell spotted the 5,600-year-old skull fragment while strolling along the muddy banks of the Thames.
"When I first saw it, I thought it was a pot that might have been upside down — like a ceramic pot," he said. https://t.co/Ab0QmZM9rs
— CBC Radio (@cbcradio) February 22, 2019
The London Before London gallery at the Museum of London is now proudly hosting the recovered skull, which is on display, along with other ancient artifacts that date back from between 450,000 BCE to 50 CE.
Dr. Rebecca Redfern, the curator of human osteology at the Museum of London, has stated that the Neolithic skull is extremely important as discoveries like these are “very, very limited,” and this time is a “poorly understood” period of history.
“The Thames is such a rich source of history for us and we are constantly learning from the finds that wash up on the foreshore,” Dr. Redfern further explained.
During the 19th century, at the time of the Victorians, mudlarking was something of an occupation for the poorer members of society, and especially children living in dire poverty, who would routinely scavenge the river in the hopes of discovering something of monetary value.
Today, mudlarking is a popular hobby for both new and experienced archaeologists, who frequently discover pieces of pipes, pottery, jewelry, and even Roman crucifixion nails along the shores of the Thames.
During the Neolithic era, the area around the River Thames was remarkably different from how it is today, and would have been a vast woodland full of wide open spaces that were traversed by hunter-gatherers at the time, like the young male whose skull was discovered along the river by a mudlarker.