Archaeologists in Austria have unearthed an “extremely well-preserved” child’s leather shoe that dates over 2,000 years back to the Iron Age. Found with its flax or linen laces still intact, the ancient shoe roughly compares to a European size 30 shoe (roughly United States size 12) today, according to a news release published on August 31 by Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, the Leibniz Research Museum for Georesources.
Under the direction of Thomas Stöllner, archaeologists excavated the artifact in the Georgenberg Mine located in Dürrnberg (also known as Bad Dürrnberg), a village known for its mining of rock salt along Austria’s northwestern border with Germany. Since 2001, the archaeological institute’s researchers have been investigating the village’s prehistoric mining sites, which were part of a large-scale mining operation during the Iron Age that extended into the Alps. Because of salt’s value as a food preservative, as discovered around 4,000 BCE, the village’s rock salt mines helped it participate in foreign trade. The archaeological studies in the area over recent decades have helped researchers gain more insight into its early days of salt mining during the Iron Age, as per the museum.
Researchers noted in the museum press release that the shoe indicates “the presence of children underground,” signaling to historians that children may have worked alongside adult miners at the time. They stated that it was in particularly good shape as a result of salt’s natural preservation qualities that helped maintain remnants of its organic lacing.
“The condition of the shoe found is outstanding,” Stöllner, who heads the research department at Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, said in a statement. The artifact’s remarkable condition helped give researchers more insight into the shoe’s design and age, which they estimate goes back to the 2nd century BCE.
In close proximity to the shoe, archaeologists made several other finds, including the remains of half a wooden shovel and a piece of fur with lacing, which was possibly part of a garment’s hood,” according to the museum.
Since researchers began exploring the underground network of mines in Dürrnberg, they have made a number of “valuable finds” including fabric remnants, fur and leather garments, and wooden tools that provide a glimpse into the working conditions of the site during its earliest days. These discoveries have also given archaeologists a better understanding of the size and composition of mining crews, which they estimate ranged from 30 to 60 workers at a time. Additional findings of “preserved excrement” have indicated that many of these miners apparently suffered from intestinal parasites.
“Organic materials generally decompose over time. Finds like this child’s shoe, but also textile remains or excrement like those found on Dürrnberg, offer an extremely rare insight into the life of Iron Age miners,” Stöllner said.