Old soles: 800-year-old shoe soles yield clues about preservation of leather

Mar 04, 2009

Ancient garbage can be like gold to archaeologists. During excavation of an 800-year-old trash dump in Lyon, France, scientists discovered the archaeological equivalent of golden shoe soles: A trove of leather soles of shoes, which is helping scientists understand how leather stays preserved in wet, oxygen-free environments.

That knowledge could aid restoration of other leather artifacts, according to a report on analysis of the old soles scheduled for the current issue of ACS’ semi-monthly journal Analytical Chemistry.

In the article, Michel Bardet and colleagues point out that leather consists of collagen, a tough protein that can remain intact hundreds of thousands of years under ideal conditions. The French soles were buried in mud in the absence of oxygen — good conditions for preservation.

They used laboratory technology called nuclear magnetic resonance to compare composition of the ancient leather to modern leather. It turned out that tannin, which helps to preserve leather, had been washed out of the old soles and replaced by iron oxides. The iron oxides, which leached into the leather from surrounding soil, helped preserve the soles in the absence of tannins.

More information: Analytical Chemistry, “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Electron Paramagnetic Resonance as Analytical Tools to Investigate Structural Features of Archeological Leathers”

Provided by ACS

Explore further: Researchers have developed a diagnostic device to make portable health care possible

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US threatened Yahoo with huge fine over surveillance

38 minutes ago

US authorities threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it failed to comply with a secret surveillance program requiring it to hand over user data in the name of national security, court documents showed Thursday.

Microbes evolve faster than ocean can disperse them

40 minutes ago

Two Northeastern University researchers and their international colleagues have created an advanced model aimed at exploring the role of neutral evolution in the biogeographic distribution of ocean microbes.

Recommended for you

Chemical biologists find new halogenation enzyme

19 hours ago

Molecules containing carbon-halogen bonds are produced naturally across all kingdoms of life and constitute a large family of natural products with a broad range of biological activities. The presence of halogen substituents ...

Protein secrets of Ebola virus

Sep 15, 2014

The current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2000 lives, has highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the molecular biology of the virus that could be critical in ...

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

Sep 15, 2014

Staying clear of diseases requires that the proteins in our cells cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners ...

User comments : 0