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Calceology (from Latin calcei "shoes" and -λογία, -logiā, "-logy") is the study of footwear, especially historical footwear whether as archaeology, shoe fashion history, or otherwise. It is not yet formally recognized as a field of research. Calceology comprises the examination, registration, research and conservation of leather shoe fragments.[1] A wider definition includes the general study of the ancient footwear, its social and cultural history, technical aspects of pre-industrial shoemaking and associated leather trades, as well as reconstruction of archaeological footwear.

History of calceology[edit]

Among the early studies of footwear from European archaeological excavations, Roman period footwear figures prominently[2][3] followed by medieval period finds.[4][5] Scientifically based research was first applied to Roman period finds[6] and later for prehistoric and primitive footwear.[7] With the development of the Goubitz notation system, the technical aspects of the recovered shoe fragments could be clearly presented, allowing researchers a coherent scientific base for leather artifact documentation and correct interpretation.[8] The interest in the history of ancient shoe fashion starts in the 17th century.[9] The interpretation of historical socio-cultural attributes shows the importance of footwear in an archaeological context.[10][11][12] The reference book for calceological studies covers the chronological span from European prehistory (Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages), Roman period, the Middle Ages to the 19th century.[13] Calceological studies outside of Europe include the eastern coast and bays of North America for post-1600 sites,[14] and the North African sites for Egyptian, Roman and Coptic periods.



Archaeological leather artifacts are preserved in stable environments, either in constantly humid, dry or frozen sites. Peat bogs also preserve leather and skin artifacts, but through a re-tanning process.[15] Water-logged archaeological sites provide the necessary conditions for the preservation of vegetable tanned leather. As an organic material, water-logged archaeological leather needs to be stabilized by an appropriate conservation method.[16] Dry conditions may be found in deserts and at high altitudes but also within the walls of medieval and later period buildings where leather shoes were concealed for superstitious reasons.[17] Ice fields, tundra and glaciers can occasionally preserve ancient leather artifacts through constant freezing.[18]

Examination of archaeological shoe finds[edit]

Water-logged finds generally consist of loose components since the threads used to sew the objects together does not survive humid burial. A tracking system should be used for keeping the loose components in order throughout the analysis and conservation processes. For wet archaeological leather, the first step is cleaning gently in water with a small soft brush. Conservation is preferably performed after the documentation phase. Documentation consists of drawings and written notes, photographic records are less useful since blackish leather does not show fine detail well. The first step for the Goubitz notation registration is an exact tracing of the fragment’s outline, usually positioned grain side down, flesh side up. Then symbols that indicate the type of stitches and seams are drawn in their appropriate place inside the outline.[19] Sole constructions (the way in which the upper parts of the shoe is fixed to the sole),[20] fastening method and ensembles of components from the same shoe as well as animal type, leather thickness, folds and creases should be noted. If present, decoration type and technique used should also be recorded.[21]

Most archaeological recovered leather artifacts are parts of footwear and may be combined with wood, fibre or metal parts. The technical details such as shoe construction technique, fastening method and fashion elements are used to establish a typology for a specific find group. Shoe type indicates the kinds of footwear such as boots, shoes, pattens, overshoes, etcetera. Shoe style is the consistent combination of a fastening method, height, fashion and decoration elements on a significant quantity of recovered shoes. Style nomenclature based on find place's name has been partly established for Roman period finds.[22] Due to changes in fashion and the fact that shoes have a limited life span due to use, footwear is a chronologically sensitive material excavation and represents a closely dated chronological source for archeology. The find context, stratigraphic placement and other dating methods contribute to establishing a specific chronology. Further research for comparative parallel examples among the existing archaeological archives (collections, publications, reports) helps to define a relative chronology for the shoe types and styles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O. Goubitz “Calceology: a new hobby: the drawing and recording of archaeological footwear.” Recent Research in Archaeological Footwear, Association of Archaeological Illustrators and Surveyors, Technical Paper No. 8, 1987, pp. 1–28
  2. ^ L. Lindenschmit, Die Alterthümer unserer heidnischen Vorzeit Band 4, Römisch-Geranisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz 1900
  3. ^ J. Curle, A Roman Frontier Post and its PeopleGlasgow 1910
  4. ^ R. Blomqvist, "Medeltida Skor i Lund" (Medieval Shoes from Lund), Kulturen 1938, pp. 189–219
  5. ^ A. Gansser-Burckhardt, "Die frühzeitliche Handwerkersiedelung am Petersberg in Basel, Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archaeologie und Kunstgeschichte 1940, pp.10–29
  6. ^ W. Groenman-van Waateringe, Romeins lederwerk uit Valkenburg Z.H. Groningen 1967
  7. ^ M. Hald,Primitive Shoes Copenhagen 1972.
  8. ^ O. Goubitz, 'The Drawing and Registration of Archaeological Footwear',Studies in Conservation, Volume 29, Number 4, 1984, pp. 187–196
  9. ^ Balsuinius, B., Nigronius, Jul.De Calceo Antiquo, De Caliga Veterum, Amsterdam 1667
  10. ^ W. Groenman-van Waateringe, "Society ... rests on leather", Rotterdam Papers II, A contribution to medieval archeology, Rotterdam 1975, pp.23–34
  11. ^ F. Grew / M. de Neergard, Shoes and PattensLondon 1988
  12. ^ C. van Driel-Murray, "And did those feet in ancient time ... Feet and shoes as a material projection of the self", TRAC 98. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, LeicesterOxford, 1999, pp. 131–140
  13. ^ O. Goubitz / C. van Driel-Murray / W. Groenman-van Waateringe, Stepping Through Time, Zwolle, 2001
  14. ^ S. Davis, "Piecing together the past: footwear and other artefacts from the wreck of a 16th-century Spanish Basque galleon", Artefacts from Wrecks, dated assemblages from the Late Middle Ages to the Industrial revolutionExeter, 1997, pp.111–120
  15. ^ Painter, T. J., “Chemical and Microbiological Aspects of the Preservation Process in Spagnum Peat”, in Turner, R.C., Scaife, R. G., Bog Bodies, New Discoveries and New Perspectives, British Museum Press, London, 1995, 88–99.
  16. ^ E. Cameron / J. Spriggs / B. Wills, "The conservation of archaeological leather.", Conservation of Leather, Oxford, 2006, pp. 244–261
  17. ^ Swann, J., 'Shoes Concealed in Buildings', Costume Society Journal, No. 30, 1996, pp. 56–69
  18. ^ W. Groenman-van Waateringe /R. Goedecker-Ciolek, "The equipment made of hide and leather", Der Mann im Eis Band 1, Innsbruck, 1992, pp. 410–418
  19. ^ O. Goubitz, Stepping Through Time, Zwolle, 2001. pp. 35–40
  20. ^ O. Goubitz, Stepping Through Time, Zwolle, 2001, p. 91-98
  21. ^ O. Goubitz, Stepping Through Time, Zwolle, 2001, p.41-55
  22. ^ C. van Driel-Murray, 'Footwear in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire',Stepping Through Time, Zwolle, 2001, pp. 362–327