Bronze Age Shoes

bronze age shoe

Calceology (from Latin calcei "shoes" and -λογία, -logiā, "-logy") is the study of footwear, especially archaeological and historical footwear. In August 2006, a Bronze Age leather shoe was found in eastern Norway by a local carpenter, who found it as the shoe thawed from an ice field in the Jotunheimen Mountains.

Investigation of the shoe showed that it was from 1420 - 1260 BC; it was made from tanned leather and was 25cm long (or around a UK size 7 / European size 39). The back seam was well-preserved and there were indications that some type of shoelaces were used.

In the same area were also found several complete arrows and a spade made from wood, so some believe the owner of the show was involved in reindeer hunting.

Materials & Tools:

  • Thick leather - enough for two shoes
  • Leather binding / cord / shoelace
  • Craft knife or strong scissors & pencil
  • Bradawl / awl / pointed tool & hammer
  • Bone or antler toggle (optional)
  • Straw or hay (optional)
  • Allow about 1-2 hours to complete each shoe

Step 1: Sole

The shoe is a very simple design with a sole that is around 4-5cm larger than the foot of the intended wearer.

The easiest way to get the correct sizing is to stand (bare-foot) on the leather and draw around the foot - then draw 4-5cm around the foot shape. Use the craft knife or scissors to cut out the shape (one for the right foot and one for the left foot).

At this stage, it may be useful to thin out the toe end of the sole (if the leather is very thick) to allow the leather to be curled up around your toes. This process is known as "skiving" and can be performed by carefully using the craft knife to remove small layers of leather - an alternative would be to use a power sander tool with rough sandpaper.

bronze age shoe -1
bronze age shoe 2

Step 2: Holes

26 holes must be made in the sole to allow the leather binding / cord / shoelace to be inserted - 16 around the toe end and 10 around the heal end. Mark the intended position of the holes with a pencil; these should be around 5-10mm from the edge of the leather.

Use the bradawl / pointed tool to make the holes, by placing the tip on each pencil mark and striking the end of the tool with a hammer. You may need to repeat this on both sides of the leather sole to create a clean opening.

(Note - ensure the surface used for this stage can withstand the impact from a hammer blow on a bradawl / pointed tool)

Step 3: Heal End

The heal end is the only remaining part of the Norwegian Bronze Age shoe that remains virtually intact and therefore provides a good example of how these shoes originally looked.

Use a 20cm length of leather binding / cord / shoelace and tie a simple knot in one end. Working from the inside of the shoe, insert the unknotted end into the first hole nearest the centre of the sole and pull through until stopped by the knot. Thread the leather binding / cord / shoelace into the next hole and start to bring both ends of the leather heal together. Continue threading through the holes until you reach the last one. Tie off the leather binding / cord / shoelace in a simple knot and trim any excess.

bronze age shoe 3
bronze age shoe 4

Step 4: Toe End

Working from the outside of the shoe, thread a 30-40cm length of leather binding / cord / shoelace through the first hole nearest the heal end. Then thread through the next hole (on the inside of the shoe), then the next hole (on the outside of the shoe). Repeat this until all toe end holes are threaded.

Even out the loose end pieces of leather binding / cord / shoelace on either side of the shoe.

Start to carefully pull on both loose ends of the leather binding / cord / shoelace to create a concertina fold in the leather. Insert you foot into the shoe and continue pulling on the loose ends until the shoe fits snuggly around your toes.


Step 5: Finishing

It is not known exactly what the shoe would have looked like or how the lacing would have been tied. One option would be to use a loop on one end of the leather binding / cord / shoelace and a wooden or antler toggle on the other.

It is also quite likely that the leather sole would have been lined with straw, hay or moss - especially during colder weather, but there is no surviving evidence of this on the Norwegian shoe.


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