Unique Roman sandal found in well in Spain

A Roman-era leather sandal with a unique decoration has been discovered in an ancient well at Lugo de Llanera, Asturias, northwestern Spain. The sandal is decorated with circles, ovals and bird-shaped figures. Roman sandals are rare finds in Spain. Only 20 are known, and this is the only one with decoration.

What would become the Roman city of Lucus Asturum was founded as the fortified capital of the Luggones people. It rose to prominence at the time of the Flavian dynasty (69-96 A.D.) as a mansio, an official rest stop on a Roman road administered by the government for the benefit of traveling dignitaries and officials. Lucus Asturum was located at the intersection of the two major Roman roads that transected the Asturias region, so it was a hub of travel, administration and communications between the 1st and 4th century A.D.

It has not been excavated thoroughly, however. The first excavations were commissioned in the 1930s, but none of the material recovered or documentation from those first digs have survived. and there is still debate as to the size and population of the ancient city. There were a few digs after that, but nothing comprehensive until the town council funded a new excavation program led by archaeologist Esperanza Martín in 2018. Martin’s team began excavations at the La Morgal recreational area. They uncovered the first remains of a Roman bath at Lucus. It was in use until the 3rd century A.D.

The next year, the remains of a Roman villa from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. were discovered near the baths. Martin’s team expanded the work area and continued to explore the villa. In the 2021 excavation, they unearthed the edge of a stone well adjacent to the house. Evidence of repairs carried out during the Roman period was visible on the stone walls of the well, and inside excavators found pieces of terra sigilata from known workshops, amphora fragments and a large number of glass fragments including a full set of dishes with bowls, drinking glasses and bottles.

Excavations resumed this summer with the well as a particular focus. The sandal was discovered in an excellent state of preservation thanks to the anaerobic waterlogged silt at the bottom of the well.

“The remains we found, due to the anoxia generated by the high water table in the area, are in an exceptional state,” says Martín. “The silts have created an anaerobic environment thanks to the plasticity of the clays that compose them, so the organic materials have been perfectly preserved.” At a depth of about three meters, the specialists extracted part of the wooden cover of the well, a tiled floor for the decantation of silts, several jars, seeds, chestnuts, pine nuts, mollusks, the remains of domestic and wild fauna, an acetre, or bronze, cauldron, a small metal ring and the sandal, among other objects. “It is almost complete and retains the cutting notches to hold it in the upper leg area. It is more than likely that it was lost by someone who came in to clean [the well] when it got caught in the silt. It is a unique object as it is decorated.”

The footwear is currently refrigerated to avoid degradation until it can be restored and exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Asturias. The sandal will thus tell visitors the story of how 2,000 years ago, a rather well-dressed individual descended into a well in Lucus Asturum to extract the mud that was spoiling the water supply to his home.

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