Saturday, August 29, 2009

An interesting discovery

Speaking as a former prison chaplain, I'm intrigued by a discovery in England.

A perfectly preserved iron ball and chain found on the banks of London's River Thames is causing a stir among archaeologists who say the 300 year-old artefact may have a gruesome tale to tell.

The leg irons, believed to date from the 17th or 18th century, were pulled from the mud with the lock fastened, suggesting a convict could have drowned while trying to escape.

. . .

'Nothing like this has ever come across my desk before,' [Museum of London archaeologist Kate Sumnall] said, adding that to find a complete set of irons was very rare.

She said the fact that the device is made of high quality iron made it very valuable at the time suggesting that it was unlikely to have been discarded.

'And we also know from the lock design that it was not a slave ball and chain,' she said.

The padlock is skilfully made with the screw-thread carved after the padlock had been cast.

English padlocks of this time were not made in this way suggesting it was made somewhere in continental Europe, possibly Germany.

The long spike on the padlock would have pointed towards the other leg when it was fitted around the ankle, Sumnall said.

The device, which weighs 17.64 lb, has been preserved by the thick black mud of the Thames whose anaerobic properties protect metal, ceramic and even leather finds exceptionally well.

There's more at the link.

An interesting archaeological find, to be sure . . . but also an unsettling one. Imagine if it had been worn by a convict trying to escape. Who was it? What drove him to try to escape, restrained as he was? Was he dragged down by the ball and chain into the mud on the bottom of the Thames, to drown in despair?


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