Footprints in the … Well, Lots of Stuff

One of the reasons I like having days off — it’s ‘Family Day’ here in Ontario (which curiously matches up with President’s Day in the U.S.) — is that it allows me time to give items the time they deserve and also to catch up on things which I’ve been putting off posting for various reasons. In this post’s case, we get to catch up on a pile of items which have a common theme of ‘footprints from the ancient world’.  Back in 2007, we had our first post about footprints, when a Roman soldier’s sandal impression was found during excavations at Sussita. A couple of years later (in October of 2009), I never got around to blogging about some artisans’ footprints which turned up when archaeologists were removing the Lod Mosaic (now on exhibit at the Met) from its footings. Here’s the coverage from Arutz Sheva at the time:

The ancient footprints of the artisans who built a stunning 1,700-year-old mosaic floor in Lod were discovered recently when conservators from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were in the process of detaching the huge work of art from the ground.

As the conservation experts worked on the plaster bedding to be done before detaching the mosaic, they were surprised to notice there were ancient foot and sandal prints beneath it. Clearly, the builders that had worked on the floor sometimes wore their sandals, and sometimes worked in their bare feet.

“It’s exciting. This is the first time I have ever encountered personal evidence such as this under a mosaic,” said Jacques Neguer, head of the IAA Art Conservation Branch, who referred to it as “a real archaeological gem that is extraordinarily well-preserved.” When removing a section of mosaic, it is customary to clean its bedding, and that way study the material from which it is made, and the construction stages, Neguer explained. “We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed.”

Neguer said this is also what happened with the Lod mosaic. “Beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic’s builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of the feet and sandals, sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44.” At least one imprint of a sole resembled a modern sandal, he added. Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints, “it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet.”

The mosaic is one of the largest and most magnificent ever seen in Israel, but although it was discovered in 1996, it was covered over again when no resources could be found for its conservation. Thirteen years later, the IAA received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation specifically earmarked for the preservation and development of the Lod site. The mosaic was re-excavated, exhibited to the public, and then conservators began the delicate process of removing it from the area for treatment in the IAA conservation laboratories in Jerusalem.

Measuring approximately 180 square meters, the mosaic is composed of colorful carpets that depict in exquisite detail mammals, birds, fish, floral species and sailing and merchant vessels that were in use at the time. It is believed that the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man who lived during the Roman period.

The site, which is located in the eastern section of Lod, next to the entrance at Ginnaton Junction, is intended to become a springboard for tourism to the city. It is situated between HeHalutz and Struma Streets, which lead to the open air market and to the city’s center.

“It is fascinating to discover a 1,700 year old personal mark of people who are actually like us, who worked right here on the same mosaic,” Neguer remarked. “We feel the continuity of generations here.”

… we might as well include a couple of photos from there as well:

Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva
Niki Davidov (IAA) via Arutz Sheva

See also:

In November of 2010, we did mention a brief item about a Roman legionary bath house being discovered in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that was one of those situations where I posted the first instance of what was found … subsequent coverage included information about a dog’s footprint being found in one of the tiles at the site. An excerpt from the IAA’s official release:

Dr. Sion adds, “Another interesting discovery that caused excitement during the excavation is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of the soldiers. The paw print was impressed on the symbol of the legion on one of the roof tiles and it could have happened accidentally or have been intended as a joke”.

… and here’s a photo from the site:

IAA photo

(I think I need to tip my pileus to Dorothy King on this one … I think she sent it to me and I filed it away)

At some point after that, I came across an item at the BBC’s History of the World site, which included a brief item on a similar canine footprint in a terracotta tile now housed in the Hunterian Museum. Here’s the photo just for comparative purposes:

BBC/Hunterian Museum photo

… which brings us to our most recent example, a child’s footprints found near an outpost of that ubiquitous Ninth Legion, which keeps coming up . Some excerpts from Sky News‘ coverage:

Archaeologists made the remarkable discovery while excavating a muddy area of a former Roman settlement on the A1 near Leeming.

Helen Maclean of archaeology firm AECOM described the find as very rare.

“I’m not aware of many other footprints being found, everybody was quite amazed by it,” she said.

Photographs show a right footprint clearly visible in soft ground followed by two left prints – suggesting that the boy or girl who made them was hopping or skipping.

The perfectly-preserved footprints were uncovered in 2010 during a dig at Healam Bridge, but photographs have only now been released after Sky News heard of their existence.

The site was excavated as part of a £318m Highways Agency scheme to upgrade part of the A1 to a three-lane motorway.

The area where the child had been playing was close to a stream where archaeologists believe the Romans struggled to keep their feet dry.

Experts found evidence of repeated attempts to make the area less muddy, with stones and plant material spread on the soft ground.

“It was quite close to where the stream probably ran”, said Ms Maclean.

“The child was probably running through the mud, jumping in puddles or possibly just trying to avoid getting its feet wet.”

The dig was close to an imperial fort which served as a frontier outpost for the famous Ninth Legion which took part in the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.


Archaeologists were unable to preserve the footprints and the photographs are the only evidence that remains of the child’s brief skip through the Yorkshire mud.

Northern Archaeological Associates via Sky News

There … I hope I’ve made some sort of impression for you …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): I note that Heather Pringle is blogging footprints too: What’s in a Footprint?

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