Saturday, February 4, 2017

Part II: What Else Is Down There? (Or Behind the Wall)

     Hopefully you've had a chance to read my earlier post about England's Roman-era examples of writing. These wooden tablets were found during excavation of an office building.

But that's not all they found.

     Researchers discovered that the river Walbrook was still running under the site - underground. It kept the nearby soil waterlogged, which in turn saved artifacts from oxidizing -- and deteriorating.

Also found: some 400 shoes and the leather backs from a six-piece dining chair set. "It's fantastic stuff that you'd never normally see," says the leader of the excavation team.

The Vinlando Fort excation, near Hadrian's Wall further north, also uncovered a pile of wooden tablets -- and a large cache of shoes, 40% estimated from women and children.

Why shoes? 

Partly because they don't deteriorate as quickly. Excavation for a shopping center in Camelon, Scotland uncovered a Roman-era fort -- and 120 pieces of Roman era footwear. Those shoes discovered seem to have been part of the fort's garbage dump. (Maybe the Vinlando Fort's shoe deposit was, too.)

But it may have been for protection from evil spirits, as well.

Homeowners and workmen around the world have found shoes concealed behind walls and stuffed up chimneys: more than 1700 documented examples in the Concealed Shoe Index, kept up to date by June Swann at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England. The museum has a collection of 246, as well. (And who knows how many shoes not reported.)  Josephine Hickin, shoe heritage development officer at the Northampton, says they're usually concealed in "areas of the house considered susceptible, or weak, where something could come into the property." The shoe is "protected by the spirit of the owner. and children are believed to have a stronger spirit than adults." (Interesting, since many of these shoes are child-sized, and well-worn. After all, who could afford to throw away a perfectly good shoe?)
     The museum features a shoe of the month, but points out, "We occasionally accept concealed shoes as a donation, though most who find them put them back 'just in case!'"

There's a Wikipedia entry about Concealed Shoes.  According to Joanna Waugh, the oldest shoe found so far dates to 1308 -- it was found behind one of Winchester Cathedral's choirstalls.
     Although the practice seems to have mostly died out by the early 20th century, concealed shoes are still being discovered today. A shoe was hidden in a Gettysburg dormitory wall. (Those workers also found letters to Civil War soldiers and bottles of sarsparilla. Someone must have been thirsty.)
     A 300-year-old man's shoe was discovered last August behind a wall in Cambridge University, by electricians doing rewiring. Sometimes, like a stash of women's high-heeled shoes and bras found behind a hidden space in a Michigan barn, the reasons were probably more kinky than protective.

Other things have been hidden away.

People have discovered money, books, jewelry and documents, Russian czar figurines, 'witch bottles' and underwear (more on this soon)...
     and mummified house cats. (We're not talking Egyptians here.)

 The cats, according to researchers, often have mice skeletons in their mouths or paws...another charm, but against rodents this time.

Probably what this doorknocker meant -- but in a less disgusting way.

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