The Thames has always been a signature landmark in London. If you have been to London, most likely you have walked past it; but you may not have thought that you can also undertake a special kind of archaeological activity at its foreshore. The river itself has without doubt been a dumping point for rubbish for thousands of years, but it is also a melting pot containing interesting artefacts—e.g. clay tobacco pipes (popular from the 16th century onwards) [1], pottery sherds, ancient combs, ancient keys leather shoes [2], you name it!

Mudlarks of Victorian London (Image source: the Headington Magazine, 1871)

Originally, the term “mudlark” described people, usually economically deprived, who searched the muddy shores for money-worthy items in the late 18th and 19th century [3]. However, recently people who search for historical finds such as metal detectorists or beach combers have also been called “mudlarkers”, but of course nowadays, they do it mostly as a hobby or for recreational purposes.

In the past it was fairly straightforward to do mudlarking—first, you check the tide forecast on websites and pick a time when the tide is the lowest (so to ensure personal safety and ease of walking and searching). Then you choose a spot to go down the stairs next to the shore and here you go! To be cautious, you should also consider wearing sensible footwear, carry a mobile phone and not go alone.

However, things are not that simple now, because since 2016 the London Port Authority has issued a new rule, so now only people who have purchased their permit can “search the tidal Thames foreshore in any way for any reason” [4]. However, what exactly constitutes “searching” is for the courts to decide. Clearly, waving around your metal detector and posting on social media “gonna get rich today” is compelling evidence of your searching activity. On the other hand, going for a romantic walk on the beach and skipping stones certainly constitutes no searching in any sense of the word. That leaves a mysterious grey area in which people walk along the shore and accidentally stumble upon a clay pipe or two—one dares not to decide whether that would be considered a search or not.


(Photo taken by Danny McL, cc2.0)

(Photo taken by diamond geezer, cc2.0)


That said, if you found “treasures” (see What is Treasure?), you are required by law to report your findings to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, in which case probing questions about how you accidentally stumbled upon that medieval helmet buried one foot underground are to be expected. The scheme is run by the British Museum and the National Museum Wales. More information can be found below.


Additional reading:  

[1] London Mudlark Facebook Page

[2] Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

[3] Thames Discovery Programme (PAS)


泰晤士河一直是倫敦具標誌性的地標。很可能您去倫敦時已曾經到訪;但您也許沒有想過,在它的海灘上也可做考古。無錯,這河可說是歷時數千年的垃圾埸,但它本身也是一個藏有趣味文物的大熔爐——例如粘土煙斗(從16世紀開始流行)[1]、陶器碎片、古代的梳子、鑰匙、皮鞋 [2],還有更多更多!

最初,「mudlark」一詞描述一班通常是貧窮的拾荒者,18世紀末和19世紀 [3] 時他們在滿是泥濘的海岸上尋找有價值的物品變賣。到了近代,持金屬探測器的搜索者或海灘的搜索者也被稱為「mudlark」,但從事的主要原因已銳變成業餘愛好或個人娛樂。



要注意的是,萬一您發現了「寶藏」(參見:What is Treasure?),根據法律您必須將發現報告給便攜式古物計劃(由大英博物館和威爾士國家博物館管理,更多資料於下方)。在這情況下,可以預料您會被問及是如何「偶然地」發現那個埋在地下一英尺的中世紀頭盔!


[1] London Mudlark Facebook

[2] 便攜式古物計劃(PAS)

[3] Thames Discovery Programme (PAS)



[1] Cohen, N., 2014. “Clay Pipes from London“.  Retrieved from
[2] Maiklem, L., 2016. “London’s history in mud: the woman collecting what the Thames washes up”. Retrieved from
[3] Oxford English Dictionary. “Mudlark”. Retrieved from

[4] Port of London Authority. Thames foreshore access including metal detecting, searching and digging”. Retrieved from

Categories: Archaeology 考古