Austria — Deep in the Hallstatt salt mine, archaeologists discovered a tattered leather shoe that has been well-preserved for nearly 3,000 years, along with other small shoes, as well as woolen and leather caps. The tattered shoe was said to have fit on a child under 10 years old. This finding gave archaeologists a glimpse of the life in this place during the Bronze and Iron Ages.
“We must conclude … children were regularly and in large numbers employed for underground mining,” wrote Fritz Eckart Barth, the archaeological site’s director in 1992, when the slipper was analyzed.
In the years since the shoes and caps spurred investigations at Hallstatt, scientists have assembled a vivid picture of the child laborers’ lives based on artifacts and bones. Wear and tear on their skeletons, in particular, suggests the youngest miners performed specific tasks at the site.
This study stands out from other archaeological studies of ancient children, as this tries to reconstruct what their lives have been in the past, compared to other studies which usually just study their physical traits such as height and brain size.
Few studies have re-created everyday experiences — how kids played, learned and labored.
This one clearly was an example of those few studies.
As a subject of scientific inquiry, “the archaeology of childhood is quite recent,” says Queen’s University Belfast researcher Mélie Le Roy. Archaeologists at Hallstatt and elsewhere are just beginning to uncover children’s contributions to ancient societies.
Know more about the history of the Hallstatt salt mine over at Discover Magazine.
(Image Credit: A. Rausch/NHM Vienna/ Discover)