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Iron Age shoe found
By Richard Savill
(Filed: 18/05/2005)

A shoe thought to be more than 2,000 years old and the oldest ever found in Britain has been dug up at a quarry in Somerset.

The Iron Age relic, found in a hollowed tree trunk at Whiteball Quarry, near Wellington, is the equivalent of a size 10.

The Iron Age shoe
Unique discovery: ‘It is valueless in as much as it is a lump of soggy old leather’

A team from Exeter Archaeology, led by Stephen Reed, unearthed the shoe. They said it was so well preserved that stitch and lace holes were still visible in the leather.

"As far as we know, this is the oldest shoe ever found in the United Kingdom," Mr Reed said. "The shoe measures approximately 30 centimetres, equivalent to a modern size nine or 10, perhaps suggesting its owner was male.

"The shoe wouldn't have had a base - soles didn't start appearing until Roman times between 43AD and 410AD. It would just have been a leather pocket - folded around the foot." The shoe has been taken to the Wiltshire Conservation Centre in Salisbury and is expected to go on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

Mr Reed said: "The importance of this shoe is that these sort of things don't really survive at all on the archaeological record, usually because they rot down."

Any normal shoe buried in the garden would have disintegrated after a couple of years, he said. "The fact that it had been waterlogged had kept away the oxygen that would have led to it disintegrating."

The discovery was made after archaeologists began work on a Saxon iron-smelting site. Mr Reed said: "It is valueless in as much as it is a lump of soggy old leather, but in so much as what it can tell us it is unique in this country, as far as we know."