The Mudlark

Rivers make excellent garbage cans.  Never in humanity’s 150,000 years has anyone had to think otherwise.  Never, until now.  So imagine the educational effort it’ll take to get Earth’s 7 billion people to do a 180̊ degree switch in just one generation. 

Still, some find advantage in garbage problems.  Like the dung beetle.  Or the mudlark.

The mudlark trolls about in riverbank muck looking for tiny fragments of treasure.  The Thames estuary around London, a major port with an ancient history, is a particularly rich source.  Tidal fluctuations constantly churn up centuries of junk.  Something new can be found on any given day.

18th and 19th century mudlarks collected junk for its resale value.  It was an extremely low end job to be sure, but it offered the possibility for a modicum of self-sufficiency.  By 1900 mudlark scavenging was no longer a legally sanctioned profession. 

Today there is a whole new population subset of mudlarks.  Professional and amateur archeology “garbologists” wade out, seeking to tell humanity’s story through it’s garbage.  But there are serious rules about modern mudlarking.  Anything completely above ground is fair game.  Anything that requires digging, even simply turning something over, requires permits.  Anything truly valuable must be reported.

A mudlark can easily amass buckets full of pottery shards, from Roman samian ware to Walmart rejects.  It takes a special person to recognize this mish-mash for the treasure it is.  But anyone who loves a good detective story should ask serious mudlarks about their finds.  See how they tease out stories from tantalizing tidbits.

Tens of thousands of little scraps of information.  Each is a tiny window peeking directly back into the past.  When put together, they form an impressive mosaic.

London.  Edward Rutherford.  Ballantine Books/London.  2002.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume.  University Press of New Hampshire/Dover, NH.  2001.


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One Response to “The Mudlark”

  1. Sue Says:

    Joe has a cousin who’s a mudlark.
    Sounds like tons of fun.

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