Gemstones on the foreshore


A short time ago I was given several small, gleaming and slightly faceted garnets, which had been found recently on the foreshore of the river Thames by mudlarker Jason Sandy.

These semi-precious stones are deep red in colour, and resemble pomegranate seeds. Perhaps what is most mysterious and exciting about these particular stones is that they do not come from the UK originally. Sources for garnets are actually as far flung as Sri Lanka and the USA.

There have been hundreds of garnets found in the Thames so far, and it remains a mystery exactly how they got there or when they arrived.  We do know that London has had links across the globe through maritime endeavours for hundreds of years, and that since the middle ages at least, garnets have been used as jewellery. They also have abrasive qualities which means they may have had an alternative, industrial use.

Stories and theories abound. For example could a jewel thief have unwittingly dropped sacks of gemstones overboard, only to return at low tide and find them gone? Tricked by the river’s notorious currents. What about a tragic shipwreck, a sunken hoard or an early form of industrial waste? You can take your pick.

It feels rather exhilarating to hold these tiny clues to past lives, unearthed from the great river. They connect us to exploration, imperialism, adventure and trade; they are part of London’s history as a global city. The Thames contains porcelain from China, pottery from Germany, gemstones from Sri Lanka, the list goes on. It is certainly food for thought.

*Thanks to Jason Sandy for his donation and for a few theories mentioned above. Read more about his work here.

**Please only ever undertake mudlarking with the relevant licences and an experienced guide, find out more here.

***If you would like to donate a specimen to the museum please get in touch.