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Oldest shoe in northern Germany discovered in bog

Archaeological excavations along prehistoric boardwalks always unearth special finds. They bear witness to mobility and transport in earlier times. The most recent discovery is an excellently preserved leather shoe. It was discovered right next to the Pr VI plank road, which crossed the large moor between Diepholz and Lohne in the late Iron Age. It is a kind of sandal, gathered at the front end and held together with a leather strap. It is the oldest, securely dated shoe known from northern Germany. Leather shoes have been found before, especially in bogs, but they are several decades to centuries younger. Each of these shoes is a unique piece made with great craftsmanship and adapted for its wearer.

Oldest shoe in northern Germany discovered in bog
Leather shoe is oldest in northern Germany [Credit: Lower Saxony State Office for Monument Preservation]

"The moors of Lower Saxony hold the evidence of many thousands of years of history. They are a unique archive, as they have not only preserved worked shards and metal objects as crucial evidence of our history, but also organic finds," Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture, Björn Thümler, was pleased to say. "The best known are the bog bodies, but wooden idols, long wooden paths and numerous other remains of life at that time are also among them. A lost shoe that was rediscovered after 2,000 years, the oldest shoe from Lower Saxony to date, is an immensely personal testimony to life in the past. You can hardly get any closer to the people of that time. It is one of those testimonies that make it possible to experience time as if under a magnifying glass. I thank the archaeologists on site for their systematic work and above all for your care, thanks to which we can celebrate the oldest shoe in the country today."

Remains of a broken wagon axle and other wagon fragments were found in the immediate vicinity of the shoe. One can almost grasp with one's hands the event in which the shoe was lost to its wearer: The axle of a wooden wagon, probably pulled by cattle, broke in two and the wagon crashed on the bumpy track. In the process, or while trying to retrieve the parts of the wagon, the owner of the shoe fell or stepped next to the path, and the shoe got stuck in the sticky mire - where it has now been found, more than 2,000 years later.

Prehistoric plank path (PR VI)

Prehistoric plank paths are a unique testimony to the mobility of earlier times. They show us the value that people attached to the existence of secure communication routes thousands of years ago. Thanks to the unique preservation conditions of the moors for organic materials, it is not only the wooden paths themselves that have survived, but also extraordinary finds made of wood, wool, fur or leather that would have no chance of preservation under normal conditions.

Oldest shoe in northern Germany discovered in bog
PR VI wood plank path, ca. 50 BC [Credit: Lower Saxony State Office for Monument Preservation]

Lower Saxony has a particularly rich heritage of such sources on settlement and transport history. In the moorland-rich north, the population was only able to ensure communication, exchange and traffic between different regions with the help of moorland crossings. In order to cross the once extensive moorlands, people here built paths and roads made of wood for over 6,000 years until modern times. More than 500 such paths are known from Lower Saxony.

As one of the world's longest moorland paths, the more than four-kilometre-long plank path Pr VI crossed the moorland between Diepholz and Lohne more than 2,000 years ago. In the run-up to peat cutting, sections were repeatedly archaeologically investigated in the past. Currently, a 520-metre section has to make way for ongoing peat extraction and planned rewetting measures.

Since June 2019, a cooperative project between the NLD and denkmal3D has been investigating the Pr VI boardwalk. Around 2,070 years ago, c. 46 BC, the construction of this plank road was a veritable large-scale construction site: the construction of such roads made of wood required enormous quantities of timber and a large number of workers who cleared large areas in the vicinity of the construction site, trimmed the timbers, transported them and assembled them into a linear structure on the difficult and not without danger moorland.

Financial resources for the investigation of the path could be obtained within the framework of the project "Nature experience at the prehistoric boardwalk in the Aschener/Heeder Moor", which is supported by the association "Naturpark Dümmer" and financed with the help of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and several sponsors. The excavations will be carried out by the excavation company denkmal3D in cooperation with the Moor Archaeology Department of the NLD. In the course of the investigations, the entire site will be photogrammetrically documented with Structure from Motion and 3D laser scanners, so that the path can then be resurrected, at least virtually, with high-quality 3D views.

Source: Lower Saxony State Office for Monument Preservation [trsl. TANN; June 17, 2021]

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