A University lecturer who is more used to diagnosing human conditions has helped to uncover the secrets of a 3000-year-old child’s shoe.

The rare Bronze Age shoe, thought to belong to a two or three-year-old child, is potentially the oldest to be found in the UK, and at 15cm, also thought to be the smallest Bronze Age shoe found in the world.

It was discovered in a north Kent riverbed by archaeologist Steve Tomlinson as he was mudlarking last September with fellow archaeologist, Emily Brown, and has been carbon dated to 888-781BC, the Late Bronze Age period. Realising that it was an extremely rare and unique find, the shoe underwent a micro-CT scan by academics at the University of Kent where an image showed the shoe was made-up of several different layers.

The rare Bronze Age child's shoe
The rare Bronze Age child's shoe.

However, it was when the shoe was given to James Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Diagnostic Radiography at Canterbury Christ Church University, that an X-ray found the underside of the sole is imprinted with a textile pattern, suggesting it had either been wrapped in or pressed against a piece of material for some time.

James has specialist knowledge of X-rays in archaeology. He explains: “This was an exciting opportunity to learn about the internal structure of the shoe, allowing an assessment of preservation and construction.”

He continued: “I used the medical imaging equipment in our Verena Holmes Building, but as our equipment is normally used for humans, some experimentation was required! However, it was exciting to see that the X-rays potentially demonstrate how different materials were used to make the shoe.”

Further examination of the textile impression and pattern of the woven material as seen on the X-radiograph taken by James might reveal more information about the textile associated with the shoe. Sending the leather for DNA testing might also reveal more information about the owner of the shoe and what animal the leather came from.