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Shackles found in River Thames hold ghoulish tale

August 28, 2009

An iron ball and chain found on the banks of London’s River Thames is causing a stir amongst archaeologists who say the 300 year-old artifact used to restrain convicts on ships may have a gruesome story 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.

The prospect conjures up a tantalizing tale reminiscent of the work of 19th century Victorian author Charles Dickens, said Museum of London archaeologist Kate Sumnall who examined the find.

“Whether a real-life ‘Magwitch’ freed himself from the ‘great iron on his leg’, or perished in shackles, or whether this ball was simply discarded, we can never know,” she said.

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