Sixty pairs of Roman shoes found in Scottish ditch

Archaeologists excavating a site of a future Tesco supermarket in Camelon, Scotland, have discovered a range of Roman artifacts including 120 leather hobnailed shoes in a ditch outside what was once the entrance to a fort along what would become the Antonine Wall. The fort dates to the second century A.D. and so the shoes probably do as well.

The find likely represents the accumulated throwaways of Roman centurions and soldiers garrisoned at the fort, said dig coordinator Martin Cook, an archaeologist with AOC Archaeology Group, an independent contractor in Britain.

“I think they dumped the shoes over the side of the road leading into the fort,” he said.

“Subsequently the ditch silted up with organic material, which preserved the shoes.”

Despite being discards, the hobnailed shoes are in relatively good condition, Cook added.

It’s the largest cache of Roman shoes ever found in Scotland. Other finds at the site include several brooches, coins, animal bones, glass, some standard ceramic pots and some high-quality, expensive French Samian ware ceramic.

The Camelon fort was at the north-west frontier of the empire. It was of strategic importance to the military and was also one of the most densely populated areas of Scotland at that time. There is evidence of significant local habitation in the area of the fort before the Romans came between 80 and 83 A.D., and evidence that habitation resumed as soon as they left in 90 A.D.

There is an earlier fort dating to the first century A.D. on the site as well, but it hasn’t been excavated this time. Both forts predate the Antonine Wall and were probably occupied during the wall’s construction. Camelon had a port on the River Carron, so building supplies could come in via boat.

Thus far the archaeological team has only been able to excavate less than 5% of the fort site, and they have to stop shortly because that Tesco is still going up. The good news all the finds will go on display on the building site for a month in a portable cabin, and Tesco has agreed to build only on the easternmost side of the site to allow the rest of it to be preserved in situ under a parking deck.

The Falkirk Council hopes that once the on-site display period is over, the artifacts will end up in Falkirk Museum. There are many other artifacts from Roman Camelon in the local museum, so all those shoes would be in excellent company.