Leather shoes from London

A fragmented sole of a Roman leather sole with hob nails still present (1884.92.41).
Organic artefacts are rare finds on archaeological sites. Organic material typically decays within most burial environments; however on occasion archaeologists are fortunate to excavate a waterlogged site or other environments, such as peat, that encourage the preservation of this material type.  

During Pitt-Rivers’ archaeological watching brief and excavations during the construction of the Gooch and Cousens Warehouse on London Wall in the City of London in October-December 1867, a number of organic objects were recovered and survive in the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum. His own publication on the site described how the peat was responsible for the preservation of this organic material (Lane Fox 1867). The material that was preserved included objects made of wood and leather. The wood preserved on the site comprises two handles attached to iron blades and also a series of wooden piles that are discussed and illustrated in Pitt-Rivers' publication.

Section drawings illustrating the wooden piles that were excavated at London Wall (Lane Fox 1867)

The leather objects from the site are all fragments of shoes and the majority are the soles of Romano-British shoes or boots. A number of the shoe soles have iron hobnails still attached. Pitt Rivers described them as “…being thickly studded with hob nails, may be recognized as the caliga of the Roman legions.” Due to the ‘great quantities’ of leather finds and the discovery of two iron implements, used for dressing leather, from one particular area of the site in his 1867 publication Pitt-Rivers queried whether this was an area where shoe-making took place - although he later concluded due to the worn nature of the shoes that it is very unlikely but does comment that more recently the site was in the vicinity of a tannery and that a passage close by is known as “leather-sellers’ alley”.
The leather shoe fragments have now been re-packed appropriately and a few, due to their fragile nature, are waiting for the museum's conservation team to assess. You can read the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project's full report on the Pitt-Rivers archaeological material from London here - https://www.academia.edu/4769220/Pitt-Rivers_in_London

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