Skates Made of Bone

A History


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About the Book

Ice skates made from animal bones were used in Europe for millennia before metal-bladed skates were invented. Archaeological sites have yielded thousands of examples, some of them dating to the Bronze Age. They are often mentioned in popular books on the Vikings and sometimes appear in children’s literature. Even after metal skates became the norm, people in rural areas continued to use bone skates into the early 1970s. Today, bone skates help scientists and re-enactors understand migrations and interactions among ancient peoples. This book explains how to make and use them and chronicles their history, from their likely invention in the Eurasian steppes to their disappearance in the modern era.

About the Author(s)

B.A. Thurber is an independent scholar based in Evanston, Illinois. Her previous publications include new editions of historic skating books and journal articles on subjects as diverse as historical linguistics, Scandinavian literature, and fluid dynamics.

Bibliographic Details

B.A. Thurber
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 194
Bibliographic Info: 59 photos, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7390-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3737-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface 1
1. Skating Before Skates 5
2. How to Skate on Bones 10
2.1. Sources and Approaches  10
2.2. Selecting Bones for Skating  11
2.3. Making Skates  14
2.4. Attaching the Bones  20
2.5. The Pole  24
2.6. Skating!  25
2.7. How Fast Did They Go?  31
2.8. Wear and Discard  33
3. The Study of Bone Skates 36
3.1. Skaters and Scholars  36
3.2. Identifying Bone Skates in Written Records  39
3.3. Identifying Bone Skates in the Archaeological Record  43
4. How Ice Skating Came to Be 51
4.1. An Origin Story  51
4.2. The Steppes As a Homeland  54
4.3. Skates, Skis and Horses  56
4.4. Skating Across Europe  62
5. Tools or Toys? 66
5.1. The Question of Use  66
5.2. Bone Type  70
5.3. Complexity  74
5.4. A Note on the Earliest Skate Candidates  83
6. Skating and Skiing in Medieval Scandinavian Literature 85
6.1. Skates and Skis  85
6.2. Skaters and Skiers  87
6.3. Skating and Skiing  90
6.4. Skríða As a Generic Verb of Motion  93
6.5. The Similarity of Bone Skates and Skis  98
7. Skating on Bones in the Middle Ages 100
7.1. The Scandinavian Expansion  100
7.2. Bone Skates as Scandinavian Artifacts in Great Britain  107
7.3. Bone Skates on the Continent  114
7.4. Directions for Future Research  117
8. The End of the Bone Age 119
8.1. The Emergence of ­Metal-Bladed Skates  119
8.2. The Spread of the New Style  127
8.3. Where to Go from Here  132
Appendix: Modern Descriptions 135
A.1. Germany and Poland  135
A.2. Central Europe  138
A.3. Great Britain  141
A.4. The Northeast  142
A.5. Scandinavia  142
Chapter Notes 147
Bibliography 169
Index 183

Book Reviews & Awards

• “A must for anyone interested in the understudied phenomenon of bone ice skates from protohistoric and historic periods.”—ICAZ (International Council of Zooarchaeology) Newsletter

• “Ambitious…fresh…The book is really a must for anyone interested in the understudied phenomenon of bone ice skates from protohistoric and historic periods…excellent”—International Council of Zooarchaeology Newsletter;

• “Thurber expertly explains how to make and use bone skates…fascinating, impressively informative…recommended”—Midwest Book Review

• “Thurber’s careful, comprehensive and detailed compilation and review of sources of all kinds is admirable and will be of great benefit to future research.”—Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research