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“In gremio – in praxi. Leather without borders”

As we announced earlier, on December 11, 2020, the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences will organize an online meeting under the theme of  In gremio – in praxi. Leather without borders.  The meeting will start at 10 AM.

Here below we present eight abstracts of lectures that will be delivered:

Varvara Busova, Russia
Study of collections of archaeological leather from Tuva (Sayno-Altay region of Russia, 8th-2th cc. B.C.)
The Scythians were nomadic people who inhabited the steppes between Crimea and northern China in the millennium BC. A common cultural code for these peoples was the use of quite specific Scythian type of arms (akinakes, arrows and axes), horse equipment and animal style decoration made of bronze, gold, stone, and organic materials (Scythian triad). In my report, I will talk about leather items from the territory of the Sayano-Altay region dated to 8th-2th cc. BC. It will be a talk about the different categories of leather/fur objects and the methods we used to study them. Some of them come from the world-famous Pazyryk burial mounds (Republic of Altay) and have good preservation, the enhanced potential for researchers. Some of them come from the small barrows of the Republic of Tuva and their preservation is very bad, but the research potential can be also significant.


Roman Vavra, Slovakia
Fish Skin and Archaeology
From both ethnographical and historical records it is known that peoples around the globe utilised the skins of freshwater and marine fish as a material. Some still continue to do so and fish leather is steadily becoming more common even in the modern fashion industry. We can make assumptions that these crafts might have been around since Prehistory, but due to the perishable nature of fish skin products, archaeology does not possess the same amount of evidence as other disciplines mentioned. There are, however, several archaeological finds of fish skin, or fish leather, to be precise. In my presentation I will sum up the general observations I made about the ethnographical and historical fish skin use and outline the potential avenues of further research. There is still a lot of work to be done and new archaeological discoveries are critical for the better understanding of how this material might have been used and whether it could have been used at all. Meanwhile museum collections can be browsed for more fish skin or fish leather artefacts.


Marloes Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, Elisabeth de Campenhout, the Netherlands
Riding tall in the saddle- A 16th-century traveller’s saddle from Delft
Saddles are not often found, or correctly identified in archaeological contexts. This is in part due to the fact that many of the constituent parts of a saddle are often made from perishable organic materials, for example wood, textile, leather and rawhide, which are often subject to a variety of degradation processes. Where organic materials do survive, such as in anaerobic waterlogged environments, due to the lack of complete parallels, identification of the often-partial fragments as parts of a saddle can prove difficult. Furthermore, riding a horse, and thus using a saddle, was seen as a symbol of prestige and status. A saddle was not an everyday item readily accessible to all, and is therefore not an object expected to be frequently found in archaeological contexts.
During excavations in 2015, as part of the redevelopment of the area just outside the city centre of Delft after the replacement of the railway viaduct with a tunnel, a remarkable discovery was made. In a ditch, which was filled at the beginning of the 16th century, were several large fragments of a leather saddle skirt, saddle padding and possibly part of a saddle seat.  Looking at the broader archaeological context of the saddle found in Delft, the evidence suggests that the function of the saddle found in Delft was likely for travel as opposed to war or tournament. Within a discussion of the material culture of travel the question becomes for whom?


Janne Hajrula, Finland
The organic components of swords from Turku, SW Finland
A medieval sword was much more than a weapon made of steel. It was customary to sheath sword blades in a rigid housing (scabbard) in order to protect them, and those wearing them, from harm. It was also typical to cover the hilt to improve the grip (grip coverings). Thirdly, it was important to cover the mouth-end of the scabbard (rain guards). In my presentation, I will discuss these three essential organic components of swords in the light of late medieval – 14th to 15th  century – finds from archaeological excavations carried out in the town of Turku. Besides the description of finds and their attributes, I will ask, what these finds can tell us about the actual swords rarely found together with their organic components. Finally, I will discuss the possible relation of the fragments to a special craft of a sword-polisher.


Franklin Pereira, Portugal
Leather in Iberian Peninsula – trades, crafts, aesthetics
The presentation is focused on the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages – particularly tanning, cordovan skin, routes of commerce and the trades dealing with leather. It considers the presence of the craftsmen of the Three Religions of the Book: Christians, Jews and Muslims. Manufacture of practical objects – bags, saddles, leggings – as well as for the elite – wall covers, seats – are taken into account, showing aesthetics and the travels the patterns imply.


Anna B. Kowalska, Poland
Archaeology and archeozoology about the mediaeval leather production. A method of research
The rich excavation materials comprise a fine source for researching such important, from the point of view of the social and economic development, questions as production character or organization, technique and production technology development, or goods assortment. The deepened analysis of a selected relic category can be used for the purpose of both the reconstruction of the process and conditions of the early medieval trade formation and the presentation of their role and significance in activity structure of inhabitant’s of medieval towns. Such an attempt to grasp the rules governing the development of one of the most important production branches – leather trades has been undertaken on the basis of leather objects which can be found on a mass scale in the Szczecin’s cultural layers dated for the period from the early 10th till the mid-13th century.


Karolina Blusiewicz, Poland
Single-piece shoes from late medieval Pułtusk – case study
The stronghold in Pułtusk was built around 1230 and functioned until 1368. During the archaeological investigation in the 1980s, numerous remains of organic materials were discovered. Among them, a small collection of single-piece shoes, which has no similarly dated analogies in the territory of present-day Poland. This early-medieval type of footwear has also some interesting improvements in cutting patterns and stitching. This is the furthest to the west found collection of late medieval single-piece footwear and their unusual form may indicate the origin of some of the inhabitants of this proto-urban site.


Małgorzata Grupa, Mikołaj Dobek, Poland
Types of leather shoes in the so-called Polish costume
Research in crypts supplements or is the only information on grave clothing, including shoes, in the past. It often happens to be removed by thieves looking for valuable items in coffins. It would seem that an indication of what kind of footwear the deceased should have on their feet is a type of their grave dress – whether the cut is Polish or Western in origin. However, it is not so easy. It is perfect only if the deceased has shoes on their feet and the degree of clothing preservation allows for full interpretation. But in the archaeological research ideal situations are very rare, and it remains to be presumed on the basis of “the well-established” knowledge. This also applies to types of footwear in grave equipment.

The meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams

Click here to join the meeting