Healam Bridge: Walk Like a Roman

Category

Category: 
Excavation
Finds
Roman
Commercial

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Various contributors

Excavations along the Dishforth to Leeming section of the A1 scheme recovered an extensive range of Roman artefacts. Through detailed analysis of the finds we have been able to refine the dating of different activities, as well as to distinguish zones of activity, including evidence for military, industrial, agricultural and residential areas.

Here are three of the finds from Roman shoes that we found on the excavations.

Hobnails

To the west of the A1, three inhumation burials were found that were radiocarbon dated to the mid- to late 4th century AD. The burials included an unsexed juvenile that had been buried with a group of finger rings and a puppy, and two females aged over 36 years. Several hobnails were recovered around the feet of one of the adult females, indicating that she was wearing either boots or shoes when she was buried.

Nailed footwear is fairly characteristically Roman, and so it is common to find evidence of shoes in Roman burials. Although graves containing nailed shoes have been more commonly found in the south of Britain, there are direct parallels between the cemetery site at Healam Bridge and cemeteries from London. This possibly suggests that nailed shoes were as commonly worn in the North as in the South, but possibly did not enter burials as frequently on northern sites. 

 

Leather fragments

The various watercourses close to the route of the A1 have resulted in waterlogged areas and provided suitable conditions for the preservation of organic artefacts and fragments of leather shoes were recovered in several places. To the north of Healam Beck, waterlogged organic deposits contained a large range of artefacts dated from the 1st to the 4th century AD. The assemblage included several fragments of leather shoe, such as part of a heavily worn one-piece shoe made from cattle hide, an adult-sized right sole of a leather shoe that bore signs of nails in its fabrication, and a heal stiffener from an adult-sized shoe that was also of nailed manufacture.

Footprints

Four human footprints were found in a waterlogged area to the south of Holme Beck. The footprints 220mm-long (UK adult size 3), suggesting the owner was either a female or an adolescent. The prints had a wide stride, with the right footprint having a much deeper impression than the left, possibly indicating the gait of an uneven stride and possibly suggestive that owner had a club foot, polio or tuberculosis.

Further information on these finds, and the multitude of other artefacts found on the Dishforth to Leeming section of the A1 road improvements, can be found in our monograph:

Ambrey, C., Fell, D., Fraser, R., Ross, S., Speed, G. and Wood, P. N. (2018) A Roman Roadside Settlement at Healam Bridge: The Iron Age to Early Medieval Evidence (in two volumes). NAA Monograph Series 3. Barnard Castle: Northern Archaeological Associates. doi: https://doi.org/10.5284/1041575

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