All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain or Halloween…take your choice. This day and this season mark a liminal time, when the veil between this world and the next grows thin. While restless spirits from history are routine inhabitants of Fia’s world in Soul Search and Soul Scent, for us, it is only on this one night of the year that the souls of the ancestors are said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality.
As an introvert, I generally have enough on my plate at this time of year, mentally rehearsing responses to extant relatives who will show up during the upcoming holiday season. Now, consider having to defend your religious views (or lack thereof) and your political leanings to someone removed from you by not just one generation, but maybe multiple human life cycles. The generation gap could become a generation (grand) canyon.
For example, what if a distant relative from the medieval era were to demand hospitality at your table? Really, what connects you, other than a little bit of DNA? Oh, sure, you might be awestruck and interested for a few minutes, but then politics would enter the discussion… “A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” Dude! I did NOT vote for the guy. “Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows. Thine face is not worth sunburning. More of your conversation would infect my brain.” Oh yeah? Well…well… yo’ momma!
The conversation would eventually degenerate further, with this ancestral person questioning even the most basic things in your life. For instance, why do you and your modern ilk walk with such uncommon ungainliness?
According to some schools of thought (see the video created by Germany’s History Park Bärnau), people from the Middle Ages walked differently than we modern folk. The difference in gait compared to contemporary people is attributed to the types of footwear worn, modern people having more protection due to thicker soles. While modern people walk with a heel first strike on a surface, medieval people would step more gingerly, with the ball of the foot striking first in order to better protect the foot from damage. This would lead to a more elegant and graceful gait compared to our current clodhopper, heel-stomping motion.
While a difference in ambulation makes intuitive sense to me, before giving in on this point to my rude and possibly inebriated medieval ancestor, it’s worth checking with an expert to see if there is any physical evidence to support this notion. (In a previous post
, I learned that if you ask a reasonable question and if you can make them laugh, experts may sometimes answer the odd email for the sake of public outreach.) Dr. Eleanor Standley
, Associate Professor of Later Medieval Archaeology at Oxford University and Curator of Medieval Archaeology at the Ashmolean Museum, has a research focus on everyday items used in the Middle Ages. I asked her whether there are patterns of wear in medieval footwear that are consistent with a difference in gait. She was kind enough to answer my email:
“Certainly on medieval shoes the leather sole is relatively thin, compared with some modern footwear, and there is evidence of cobblers’ repairs to soles of shoes found in the archaeological record – but sometimes it is difficult to identify with certainty any resoling. Pattens, however, would also have been worn.
Wear on shoe remains is found showing ‘normal’ walking: the back of heel touching the ground first, and the foot rolling forward to the ball of the foot, and then finally the toe pressing into the ground, as you continue the movement. But there are examples found with wear patterns suggesting a shuffling gait or walking more on the toes, or striking the ground with a flat foot.”
So, ha! Thou cream faced loon, there is evidence for equally ungraceful footfalls for people from both your time and mine. But if you truly want to find fault with modern people, lets talk about the Millenials – it’s kind of a spectator sport these days – because these people have some serious problems… “Agreed, thou lump of foul deformity, their sin’s not accidental, but a trade!”
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Image attribution: Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons (cc-by-sa-3.0)
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