Unique medieval toddler bootie found in Switzerland

Archaeologists excavating the town of Saint-Ursanne in the Swiss canton of Jura have discovered an exceptional decorated leather toddler bootie from the Middle Ages. Sanitation works on the town’s canal network over the past three years have given archaeologists the opportunity to explore Saint-Ursanne’s medieval history and a wealth of organic remains have been found in the eastern part of the old town thanks to a large depression left by the river Doubs. More than a hundred fragments of leather have been found under the old town thus far, preserved in the waterlogged soil for hundreds of years.

The shoe is the most remarkable of the leather finds. It measures 6.7 inches by 5 inches and has a goat leather upper and a cow leather sole. The boot goes high up the ankle and has leather button closures. It is sized for a child about 12 months old. This design was a popular in the second half of the 14th century, but very few examples are known to have survived to the present day. This particular piece is even more of a stand-out because it is decorated with a foliate pattern on the front and a geometric check on the back of the bootie. Only five similar shoes have been found in Europe — three in London, two in the Netherlands. The bootie is unique in the Swiss archaeological record.

The leather remains were transferred to the Lausanne Shoe Museum for examination and conservation by specialists Marquita and Serge Volken. Like most surviving leather buried underground, the shoes are a uniform dark brown. If they did have decorative color elements, any indications of it are now lost.

The excavation in the eastern sector of Saint-Ursanne’s old town has also unearthed significant wood architectural elements from the Middle Ages, also preserved in the waterlogged environment. Most recently archaeologists have discovered a large wood construction underneath modern-day Rue du 23 juin. Experts have not been able to determine yet what type of structure it was or what its function may have been. Excavations are ongoing.


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Comment by Emily
2019-03-31 11:10:06

The bootie has such a sweet design, and proof once again that plaids and florals do mix. How extraordinary!

Comment by Trevor
2019-04-01 04:58:42

Soggy soil, oh how I cursed you when I was young, how little I knew you then.

OK, so sign me up for more soggy finds from Saint-Ursanne!

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August 2022


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