Archaeologists Unearth 1,000-Year-Old Ice Skate Made of Animal Bone in Czech Republic

The artifact dates to a time when skates were used primarily for practical purposes

Skate With River
The skate was discovered in Přerov, a city in the Czech Republic's eastern Olomouc region through which the Bečva river flows. Zdeněk Schenk / The Comenius Museum in Přerov

An ice skate made of animal bone has been discovered beneath a city center in the Czech Republic. Researchers from the Comenius Museum found the 1,000-year-old artifact during excavations of a basement in the city of Přerov, some 160 miles east of Prague.

The smooth piece of bone immediately stood out to Zdeněk Schenk, an archaeologist from the museum. As he tells Smithsonian magazine, it’s tapered into a “nose” on one side, and each end features a small hole. Leather straps would have been threaded through this hole to attach the skate to a shoe or sled.

Schenk thinks the artifact dates to either the late 10th or early 11th century—an estimate based on pottery fragments buried nearby.

During this time, the area was home to a “very important fortress,” as the archaeologist tells Ruth Fraňková of Radio Prague International. This fortress “served as a stronghold for Polish King Boleslav the Brave, who occupied Moravia at the time and had his soldiers stationed there.”

in situ
The bone skate was uncovered during a "salvage excavation" of a home's basement. Zdeněk Schenk / The Comenius Museum in Přerov

Today, skates are used almost exclusively for sports and leisure. A millennium ago, however, those who inhabited the region wore them so they could more easily navigate their surroundings during the coldest parts of the year.

“Rather than skating, they would shuffle along the frozen surface with the help of a stick or two,” says Schenk to Radio Prague. “They would also attach the blades to sledges to carry a load of goods across the frozen water.”

Schenk tells Smithsonian that bone ice skates were typically made from an animal’s metapodials (the long bones that connect digits to a leg or arm), but they were also sometimes carved from “radii [forearm bones] of cattle and horses.” The newly discovered skate likely belongs in the latter category: Schenk thinks it was made from a horse’s shin.

Schenk and Skate
Archaeologist Zdeněk Schenk holds up the 1,000-year-old skate. Iveta Juchelková / The Comenius Museum in Přerov

The history of the ice skate stretches back thousands of years. Skates made from bones aren’t an uncommon find in Europe, where they were “the only way some people had to travel in winter,” as Smithsonian’s Laura Poppick wrote in 2018.

“The bone skate from Přerov is nearly identical to skates recovered in northern Europe, for example, from Birka in Sweden—a very famous archaeological site from the Viking Age—and also from York in England or Dublin in Ireland,” Schenk says to Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou.

Schenk was born in Přerov. He remembers ice skating with friends on the city’s frozen Bečva river, clad in leather boots equipped with metal blades. This was “dangerous entertainment” that his parents and grandparents also participated in, he tells Smithsonian.

“It’s a long tradition,” he adds. He marvels, though, that “our ancestors skated over the frozen Bečva river 1,000 years ago.”

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