Lonely Planet Writer

Tudor treasures found in River Thames mud

Who would’ve thought the murky depths of the Thames could yield anything other than shopping trolleys? And yet, a tiny collection of beautifully worked Tudor gold was found by eight different metal detectorists in a muddy patch of the Thames’s banks outside London.

A small Tudor treasure was found in the banks of the Thames
A small Tudor treasure was found in the banks of the Thames Image by David Parry/PA

According to archaeologist Kate Sumnall, the beautiful 16th century objects share such similar tiny details, that they are sure to belong to the same collection. Sumnall conjectures that they must’ve belonged to a beautifully decorated garment in all likelihood, and that they ended up in the river when the item of clothing – a hat or a shawl – fell into the river after being snatched from a passenger’s head or blown off by a sudden gust of wind. The Thames at that time was a busy thoroughfare of boats and ferries.

The objects include aglets, beads and studs, all objects that were used as garment fastners. By the 16th century they were being used as decorations and symbols of social standing, and so came in gold and embellished with enamel.

Whilst reportedly the objects do not contain a lot of gold, under British law they are still considered ‘treasure’ and must therefore be reported to a finds officer for evaluation. A finds officer will often work for a museum and be in charge of collecting and evaluating small archaeological finds by the public under the UK’s portable antiquities scheme. In many ways they are treasure evaluators! In this case the officer was Sumnall, who is based at the Museum of London, and who received all of the pieces separately over a period of a few years. Sumnall believes the find is an important one because of the intricate work that was involved in the pieces, and hopes to be able to acquire them for the museum.

A giant wooden hippo will call the Thames home for the next four weeks. Image by [Duncan] / CC BY 2.0
The river THames. Image by [Duncan] / CC BY 2.0 Image by [Duncan] / CC BY 2.0
“These artefacts have been reported to me one at a time over the last couple of years. Individually they are all wonderful finds but as a group they are even more important. To find them from just one area suggests a lost ornate hat or other item of clothing. The fabric has not survived and all that remains are these gold decorative elements that hint at the fashion of the time.”