19th c. Dutch farmers: A Croc, a Croc, my dairy farm for a Croc!

Archaeologists have discovered evidence in the bones 19th century Dutch farmers that the traditional wooden clogs that are now ubiquitous on key chains and souvenir stands but were once ubiquitous on human feet caused permanent osteological damage. An international team of osteoarchaeologists from Leiden University and Western University (Ontario, Canada) discovered the tell-tale bones in 2011 during an excavation of a historic church cemetery in the village of Middenbeemster, Netherlands, that was being relocated.

Beemster was a rural farming community, a dairy farming community, mainly, and the team was hoping to gather previously unrecorded data about the diet, health, common injuries, illnesses and general health of country folk in the 19th century Netherlands using osteobiographical and paleopathological analysis as well as stable isotope analysis (to find out what they ate) and mass spectrometry. There’s a significant body of work that’s already been done on the inhabitants of Dutch cities, but the rural areas have been little studied so this was a unique and important opportunity.

They were able to analyze 500 skeletons, most them very well-preserved, of adult women, men and children. Out of those remains, 130 complete feet were found. Bio-archaeologist and Western University Anthropology professor Andrea Waters-Rist examined the feet bones and found a consistent pattern among them: they presented a rare type of bone lesion called osteochondritis dissecans (OD) which looks like a chip or divot has been chiseled out of the bone. She didn’t even have to use a microscope to see them. The missing chunks at the joints were clearly visible to the naked eye.

In the wider population, OD is found in less than one percent of individuals and the lesions affect various bones, very rarely those in the foot. A whopping 13% of the good folks from the Middenbeemster cemetery, on the other hand, had it and they only had it in their feet. Part of the cause was likely the hard physical labor involved in traditional farming, both inside the home and outside of it, but a lot of people fed their families with backbreaking work and they didn’t have craters in their feet bones. Researchers concluded that it was likely a combination of heavy labour and repetetive stress on certain areas of the feet cause by the iconic “klompen” (which are still worn today, btw, particularly in rural areas).

For farmers, the clogs would have been very useful shoes, as they were affordable, kept their feet dry and, if stuffed with straw, quite warm. As such, they would have been worn for most uses. As the clogs have a stiff sole, they could have amplified the stresses associated with farm work and travelling by foot.

That combination of hard work, while wearing klompen, day-in and day-out, caused the bone chip to form, Water-Rist explained.

“The sole is very hard and inflexible, which constrains the entire foot and we think because the footwear wasn’t good at absorbing any kind of shock, it was transferring into the foot and into the foot bones. It’s not very common in the foot. They were doing something different that we haven’t seen before,” she said.

Since these farmers lived in a time before industrialization, manual labour was more taxing on their body. Oftentimes the klompen was used as a tool for kicking down fences or pushing in a shovel – all tasks later made easier by machinery.

The results of the study of the klompen-related OD lesions have been published in the International Journal of Paleopathology but it’s behind a paywall so you’ll need a subscription or an institutional connection or to pay $31.50 to read it.


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Comment by Magical
2017-11-19 07:43:48

I wonder if the people with the lesions were perhaps poorer than the others and had less well fitting clogs?

In current times clogs are excellent footwear for festivals. Your feet stay dry and if someone stomps on your foot THEY get hurt not you. :lol:

Comment by dearieme
2017-11-19 11:04:47

I was sent to primary school in clogs. If anyone tried to bully me I was to kick them on the knee. The need never arose. Deterrence is wonderful. Or, perhaps, nobody intended to bully me, in which case the clogs did no harm anyway. Unless of course ……

Comment by Lee Chiselwood
2017-11-19 13:27:22

Look – He’s got Wood !

From a medical point of view, one might assume that muscles and bones -under strain- tend to harden and become bigger and stronger. On the contrary, however, inflammation and degenerative processes in general, would rather slim those structures down.

Here, the latter is expressed by ‘osteochondritis dissecans’, i.e. the ‘grinding inflammatory tessellation of bone matter’.

These boots are made for chalking
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna CHALK all that from you


Comment by Ann
2017-11-20 21:09:54

A Dutchman of my acquaintance told me that klompen are still pretty practical, since they keep the feet dry and warm in cold muddy farm country, and they can be kicked off, rinsed with a hose, and set upside down to drain and dry, which they do quickly. I believe you’re supposed to wear a leather “slipper” as an inside shoe with them, and if that’s properly fitted it should support your foot bones correctly.

Comment by Trevor Butcher
2017-11-23 03:21:18

I like klompen – unless they have flowers, windmills or somesuch painted on them.

Comment by Hypo-Calvinist
2018-01-01 14:33:31

“but it’s behind a paywall so you’ll need…”
…to use Sci-Hub or another site/extension which will allow you not to pay exorbitant sums for what was often publicly funded research?

2018-02-01 12:18:43

Do clogs kill our feet?
Jim Pattison B.Sc C.Ped (C ) Canadian Certified Pedorthist

I read the newspaper article about this subject with interest and a bit of disappointment. It also figured in a video with the title “Breaking News – Clogs are killing your feet”. The article and video talked about clogs in Holland and by extension clogs today being bad for the feet.
The video said that clogs:
• Are not good at absorbing shock
• Have an inflexible sole that changes the way you walk.
• Modern clogs have no shock absorption
• You can hear people clogging along
• Make our Gait ridiculous
• Do nothing to support the arches.
The video goes on to say that sneakers are good for a long day on your feet. Open backed shoes should be avoided including mules and flip flops.
I looked further and found that the research was done by Irene Vikatou. She did a Master’s thesis in Osteology and Funerary Archaeology. She says the evidence says this could point to clogs being a source in the past. She makes no inference to what is happening today and talks about directions of further research to evaluate the historical findings.
It is a podiatrist named Suzanne Levine that is quoted as being more definitive and makes the leap from what was found all these years ago to the present. The article put some evidence together that could at best be “correlative” rather than imply causation. The analysis is post hoc and the analysis of the present footwear could only be classed as “supposition”.
Osteochondritis Dissicans is not a common disorder –especially at the ankle. For there to be this number of people that had it, there is something going on, but we are not sure of the cause.
I want to talk about the extrapolations onto the present footwear. I will limit my response to dealing with clogs that come from Sweden and Denmark. Other countries manufacture clogs, but there may be some differences to their manufacture. I have been wearing clogs of this sort since the 1980’s so I am not unfamiliar with these.
Clogs not good for shock absorption?
The same technology that has given running shoes shock absorption is in the domain of clog builders too. Flexible soled clogs have shock absorption built into them just as it is in running shoes. Putting a picture up of this does not do the topic justice.
Clogs do support your arches. I did a quick survey of the clogs I have from Sweden and Denmark. All but one model has arch support intrinsic in the shoe.
Runners for all day comfort? In one of my jobs, I heard a number of coworkers that wore runners complaining about their feet being sore. Those in the health care field are particularly at risk for sore feet. I asked the first group what I was doing wrong because my feet didn’t hurt and I had been on my feet longer than they had. The second group DOES comment about their situation and how much they spend on footwear looking for comfort!
Ergonomic sole design.
The sole design promotes natural gait. There is a positive toe rocker- a curve under the forefoot helps the wearer to walk in a normal fashion and it does not force the wearer to lift the foot earlier in gait or to put them down making the noise that the podiatrist talks about. I agree that not every shoe is suitable for everyone, but those with forefoot injuries and fractures have been told to wear a stiff shoe with a positive toe rocker. This reduces the motion at the forefoot and thus reduces pain. Please note that this pair of Swedish clogs has a flexible sole.
These clogs can prolong the ability to walk for people with proprioceptive issues and MS. The sole does the work for the person to walk in a more normal fashion when they may not be able to by themselves.
Note that there is a negative heel rocker on this model as well. The curved heel reduces the instantaneous shock that comes at heel strike. It is spread out over a longer time to reduce the pain for people with hind foot pathology. The second photo is of a more aggressive rocker sole on a closed back clog
The next photo is of a shoe with no rocker sole at the front. Although the sole is flexible, the absence of a rocker sole means that the person has to lift the foot off the ground early in the gait cycle order to walk properly.

Foot shaped toe box
Running shoes are too narrow and pointed at the toe for many people to wear them. If a person with a wider foot that does not taper in like the shoe on the left, they will have difficulty getting running shoes to fit.
An orthopedic surgeon said I should get runners to deal with an issue I have with my feet. There are no running shoes that have a wide enough toe box for me to get my foot in. In addition, the runners that he said I should have are not the colour that I need for work.
Expert running shoe fitters in town have asked me to have surgery to make my foot fit their shoes. I had to tell him that he should get shoes lasted to fit the foot type.
Clogs have a single piece upper
The absence of seams in the upper makes them more suited to people who have bunions, hammertoes, claw toes and other deformities of that kind. Podiatrists are not unaware of this answer to helping people get comfortable footwear. Runners are replete with lots of seams, so their design makes it harder on people with toe deformities to wear them.
The design of clogs limits fluids from leaking in. This is an important consideration in health care and food service settings. There is also less staining possible on the upper.
I have seen or heard of no cases of OCD of the ankle since 1981. If this is such a concern, there should be cases reported!
Clogs last longer than runners. Runners in the work place are expensive and last 6 months or less. I have clogs on that are 12 years old. One pair I have is 35.
These have a padded collar at the mouth of the shoe. This decreases pressure on the dorsal midfoot. This is one way that clogs are designed to minimize their injury potential and reduce point source irritation. (Podiatrists would relate to this term in conjunction with loss of protective sensation) It also decreases the tendency for them to come off. I heard this and had to test it out. When running at full speed down a hill, the open back clogs stayed with me and did not come off.

One Danish clog company did a research project in the US. A truck filled with their footwear backed up to a busy hospital. Each staff member was offered to get a pair in their size and asked to wear them for the duration of their 8 or 12+ hour shift (not the standard practice for starting to wear new footwear). After their shift, the people were surveyed. They reported relief from a variety of problems including Plantar Fasciitis, Lateral Gutter Syndrome and various toe deformities.
While clogs are not a panacea, they HAVE kept up with technology in shoemaking and they are comfortable in a variety of temperatures and have non slip soles.
In short, there is a reason why Podiatrists at the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association and the American Podiatric Medical Association have clogs on their list of approved shoes. I know that the process is an in depth one and there is an investigation done. The CPMA tell about the process on this page. http://www.podiatrycanada.org/approved-products/

Clogs are not made only in these countries. I have examined clogs originating from other countries. Clogs are also made in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Mexico, England, Spain and Portugal. They may be made out of wood, polyurethane or another substrate. These may be made for a more fashionable market and there may not be the same ergonomic features that I outlined above. The positive and negative rocker heels may be absent. With the ergonomic features being absent, it may make them more difficult to walk normally and may lead to premature foot lift in the gait cycle.
There may or may not be a padded collar on them. The insole design may not have as much of an arch support and toe box may be narrower.
The ones that do not have a padded upper tend to stretch at the dorso-medial part of the mouth to relieve pressure on the navicular and cuneiforms.

I want to take a minute and talk about Klompen. These are the Dutch wood soled with a wooden upper.
While they may not have a lot of shock absorption built into them as they are, they are made for shock distribution. The shock from walking is distributed over a larger area than the point of impact.
They have been worn by farmers traditionally because they are inexpensive, waterproof and protect the foot from hazards like animals stepping on the feet.
There are “clog socks” available where the sole is thicker than the upper and this serves to provide some cushioning and thermal insulation.
Another area where they have been worn at work is in foundries. If you look at the exhibit I saw at the Parc des Forges in Trois Rivières Quebec, there is a comparison between what people wore then and now when working in a foundry. The klompen they wore were of a different construction than the tourist ones we see today. The display said that the klompen were lighter and more comfortable than the boots that are worn these days.
The next area where klompen are worn for work is with Highways workers. Their construction is also different than the tourist ones. A story is told of someone telling highways workers that they now needed to wear safety boots for their work. The workers did an experiment. They put some of the boots in front of a steamroller and they were crushed flat. A worker took his klompen off and they were also run over. After the steamroller went over them, there was no damage visible on his klompen, so he put them back on and went to work.
However, please note that the design of Klompen has not remained the same over the years. The tourist models have wood all the way, but the Dutch and French have been putting leather on the instep of some models for some time- historians say that it is been going on about 150-200 years.
The wooden mouth on this model is longer and the leather instep makes them easier to don and doff according to sources. There is no mention of ankle pain in the history. The models that need to be waterproof may not have leather insteps because water would leak in the holes used to bind the leather to the rest of the shoe. Photo credit (https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/834010424713697258/)

This is another sample of another clog from Holland. They are 150+ years old.

(Picture credit https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/232428030741776285/)

This thesis was an interesting one, but before extrapolation is done into the current market, additional research needs to be done:
– What is the incidence of OCD in workers (not recreational wearers) today wearing klompen? This figure is not available.
-What is the incidence of OCD in wearers of present day clogs?

I would like to encourage people to become familiar with ergonomically designed clogs no matter where they come from. Your feet could thank you!

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September 2020


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