Archaeologists find 1,700-year-old Roman sandal in melting ice in Norway


Around the 4th century AD, an ancient traveler made his way through the Horse Ice Patch, a difficult mountain pass over 2,000 meters above sea level in western Norway. Along the way, the traveler must have lost or thrown away one of his shoes, a worn leather sandal of similar fashion seen in Rome, nearly 3,000 kilometers away. And what a pity too because this sandal was obviously made to last.

Credit: The secrets of ice cream.

Nearly 1,700 years later, an unusually hot summer in 2019 melted the top layers of snow and ice that had accumulated at the site for centuries, revealing a sticky shoe. A local hiker spotted it and luckily realized its historical significance. He took some photos and shared them, along with the coordinates of the site, with archaeologists affiliated with The secrets of ice creama glacier archeology program that has so far uncovered thousands of artifacts in melting Norwegian ice and glaciers, including medieval wooden skis and tunics likely worn by Vikings.

Espen Finstad and his Secrets of the Ice colleagues knew the area well. Previously, they had found a medieval horseshoe and a 700-year-old horse leg there. They drove to the location on the Horse Ice Patch Trail and began the excavation in a hurry, recovering the shoe, along with other items including arrows, textiles and even frozen horse poo. They also finished in no time as the next day the trail was hammered by heavy snow which deposited a thick layer of snow on the site. If the storm had arrived sooner, this lucky sandal would probably never have been found.

These sandals were made for walking

Rock cairns like the one pictured here mark ancient routes to and from passes through the Norwegian mountains. Credit: Secrets of Ice.

Examinations by Vegard Vike, an archaeological curator at the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo, showed that the rawhide shoe is a size-nine sandal designed in Roman times. carbatine style very fashionable throughout Europe at the dawn of the Western Roman Empire.

It is highly unlikely that the traveler is in fact a Roman tourist, although this possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. Nevertheless, the fact that Roman shoes can be found so far north and over a thousand miles from the frontier of the empire shows how influential the Romans were.

In addition to the sandal, its owner must have worn thick strips of wool or socks made from animal deer to combat the crushing cold. The wearer could have lost their shoe while hiking through the rugged landscape, but Lars Pilø, an archaeologist from Secrets of the Ice, thinks it’s more likely that the traveler simply threw the sandal away as trash, the finding it too worn out to be of any future. utilize. As an experienced traveler, this person probably had a pair of new shoes with him just for such an occasion. Well, we’re in luck, because one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The Horse Ice Patch is littered with a network of trails that connect Norway’s interior to its coast. People traveling along these paths with their pack horses were likely busy transporting supplies, loot, and trade items such as animal hides, antlers, and leather. Once at the fjord on the other side of the trail, travelers traded their goods for salt, barley and dried fish, then made the arduous journey back to their village.

Most of these paths, which had been widely used in ancient and medieval times, are now almost impossible to spot as they have fallen into disuse and are now covered in snow and ice. But sometimes archaeologists are lucky enough to find a loose ancient object, like this stubborn Roman sandal, that helps them mark out routes and plan new expeditions.

“High mountain passes ceased to be used mainly because better roads were built in the lowlands from the middle of the 19th century,” Pilø said. Ars-Technica.

With a keen eye, Vike studied the details of the 1,700-year-old torn sandal and managed to make a reconstruction, as seen below. The original shoe, however, probably seemed more rugged and suitable for mountain hiking than this reconstruction of its functionality.

A recreation of the Roman sandal found in the frozen mountain trails of Norway. Credit: Vegard Vike at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.

Finstad and his team have been exploring Norway’s ancient mountain trails for over 15 years. During each expedition, they are always on the lookout for clues hidden among the desolate and arid frozen landscape. Once the next summer melt, you can bet Secrets of the Ice archaeologists are going to get their boots wet right now.

“It’s a giant puzzle. We’ve been on the verge of finding out where these mountain passes go for a while, we’ve been out there looking for clues. And then these finds appear and reveal one of them. It’s just very exciting,” Finstad said. Science Norway.

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