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Ritual, Recycling and Recontextualization: Putting the Concealed Shoe into Context

  • Ceri Houlbrook (a1)


The concealed shoe is, possibly by design, shrouded in mystery. All that is known for certain on this subject is that a large number of shoes, usually old and damaged, were concealed in various, unconventional locations within buildings throughout England, and that this practice was particularly popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Other than these few facts, all other information on the subject is speculation. With no contemporaneous written sources on the practice of concealing shoes, this article will utilize the archaeological evidence in order to ascertain the motivations behind the act of concealment. An analysis of two case studies of concealed shoe caches from North Yorkshire, with a particular focus on their locations and conditions, will hopefully prove invaluable in the investigation into this unusual practice, together with an examination of the relevant folk beliefs and superstitions of the period. It will also be questioned where the concealed shoe stands in relation to our everyday classificatory systems. As a marginal, mutable object, the concealed shoe boasts a highly complex biography, calling into question the pertinence of such categories as valuable/rubbish, and particular attention will be given to the shoes’ numerous recontextualizations, from practical footwear, to apotropaic device, to archaeological artefact; transitions which I have dubbed ‘ritual recycling’.



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